Good Ole’ DeKalb County, Apparently Screws the Pooch Again


DeKalb reports $55 million shortfall for next year

By Megan Matteucci

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Facing a $55 million shortfall in next year’s budget, DeKalb County commissioners say they’ll consider layoffs, fire station consolidations and cuts in services to offset the lost revenue.

Commissioners learned on Friday that pension troubles, insurance increases and further erosion of the tax base have left the county with a gap of $54.81 million in the 2011 budget.

“We need to reorganize. We need to talk layoffs. Everything has to be on the table this year,” Commissioner Elaine Boyer told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We said we want a balanced budget with no millage increase.”

The county identified $20 million in possible cuts, including closing libraries, recreation centers, satellite tax offices and some fire stations. Three departments face elimination — the cooperative extension office, the communications office and an agency called OneDeKalb, which works with neighborhoods.

The county also wants to stop paying for school crossing guards, raise ambulance fees and cutting food service at senior centers, according to draft budget documents obtained by the AJC.

The $55 million is on top of $100 million in cuts the commission made last year.

Last year the commission declined to raise taxes and ordered employees to take 10 furlough days, which saved almost $12 million.

Commissioner Larry Johnson said the goal this year is to get rid of those furlough days and save workers’ jobs.

But that will be tough given the county’s debt, including a $17 million more to the county’s pension fund.

Police have protested the furloughs by writing fewer tickets. An AJC investigation found officers wrote 20,000 fewer tickets between May 1 and Aug. 31 compared to the same period last year – costing the county about $3 million in revenue.

Commissioner Jeff Rader said he will not look at raising taxes until the CEO reorganizes the government.

In September, the commission passed a resolution saying they would only consider a property tax increase after an “extensive restructuring of county government and elimination of county operations of lowest priority.”

A study by Georgia State University earlier this year found DeKalb’s staff is bloated and recommended 909 positions be cut. The county lost about 825 workers through early retirement, but then filled about 600 of those positions.

“We need to reorganize, but they [the administration] snubbed their nose at the GSU study,” Boyer said. “First we need a desk audit to look at every position.”

CEO Burrell Ellis was in Washington and not available Friday, but his chief operating officer Richard Stogner said the CEO is working on the budget and will present it to the commission by Dec. 15. He was reluctant to save it the CEO proposes a tax increase.

“Everything is on the table right now. His direction is a responsible budget,” Stogner said.

Stogner said the commission needs to be concerned about morale.

“Our employees have not had a raise in three years. We’ve increased pension and health insurance. At some point in time, that creates a morale problem,” he said.

Employees’ pension contributions are expected to nearly double next year.

Rader said he will not look at raises until he sees an increase in productivity.

“If they want to get paid more, they have to carry more of the burden,” he said. “There is no way around it.”

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