DeKalb plan for spending new relief funds focuses on public safety



DeKalb County could use a large portion of its new federal relief money to fund what CEO Michael Thurmond called a “comprehensive emergency strategy to enhance public safety and prevent violent crimes.”

The county recently received the first half of what will ultimately be a $147 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan, the pandemic-related stimulus package that President Joe Biden signed into law in April. Thurmond presented his proposal for spending the money during a Tuesday morning meeting of DeKalb’s Board of Commissioners.

The proposal is wide-ranging but largely focused on public safety. DeKalb County, like others jurisdictions across metro Atlanta and the country, has seen a spike in violent crime during the pandemic.

“There’ll be other things that we do,” Thurmond said, “but you have to prioritize your strategies. Public safety is our top priority in this plan.”

»View the full spending plan at the bottom of this story

The proposal includes $3,000 “protect and serve retention bonuses” for an estimated 2,300 public safety employees — from police officers and fire personnel to those working in E911, probation, juvenile justice and more.

Non-public safety personnel would also receive a $2,000 bonus.

The total estimated price tag for the bonuses is just over $16 million.

Under Thurmond’s plan — which must ultimately be approved by commissioners — the county would also invest more than a quarter-million dollars in “violence interruption” programs and training. Additional investments in the court system would include expanding accountability programs for young, non-violent offenders and a program aimed at disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline.

The county would also spend just over $2 million to make new hires and upgrade technology in the court system. Those efforts are meant to help tackle the backlog of court cases created by the pandemic.

Three new “mobile crisis nurses,” who would help police respond to mental health issues, would be hired as well. The county currently only has one such nurse. Another $1 million would be provided to the county’s Community Service board to help it address mental health issues.

The county would also buy 25 new Flock security cameras and install them in high-crime areas.

“If you want to invest in our community, I think it’s important to invest in our public safety personnel and give them the tools that they need so they can put their best foot forward,” DeKalb County police chief Mirtha Ramos said Tuesday.

In all, Thurmond’s plan lays out a template for spending about $52.4 million of the $73 million received in its first tranche of funding from the federal rescue plan. More than $20.5 million will be kept in reserve.

Other expenditures included in the initial proposal include $10.5 million that commissioners could use for COVID-19 related initiatives in their districts; $3 million to address food insecurity; $2 million for a Worksource DeKalb program targeting people who lost their jobs during the pandemic; and $1 million in small business grants.

About $5 million would also be spent on water and sewer-related initiatives. Those include a grant program to help low-income seniors and disabled homeowners pay for “critical plumbing repairs.”

The county recently received a separate grant of nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that it plans to use to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination efforts targeting hesitant and underserved populations.

“Vaccinations and spiking homicide rates are the two major issues as we recover from COVID-19,” Thurmond said.