DeKalb budget proposal funds police positions and pay raises

New DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond proposed a $1.3 billion budget Tuesday that emphasizes "getting back to the basics," with spending for parks, more police officers and pay raises for county employees.

The plan, which must be approved by the DeKalb Commission, relies on existing revenue and includes no tax increase.

But Thurmond said it's not complete. He'll soon request additional spending to help correct inaccurate water bills, reduce blight and fight unemployment.

He said the proposed budget reflects a responsible government that focuses its efforts on improving residents’ quality of life.

“This tells you who we are and what we believe in,” Thurmond said. “The glory days are over. We’re not in the pre-recession days anymore. … This budget is about getting back to the basics of governing — doing what’s in the best interest of DeKalb County citizens, period.”

One of the largest new costs in the budget is $17.2 million to pay for a full year of 4 percent pay raises approved last year for the county's 6,000 employees. The county spent $11.4 million for those raises from May to December 2016.

The budget also sets aside $50 million in reserve funds — more than in past years. That’s enough to pay for a month’s worth of services in the general fund.

Thurmond’s spending plan includes funding for 20 more police positions and 36 more fire and rescue personnel for the last eight months of 2017 at a cost of $2.1 million.

Thurmond, who took office Jan. 1, said his proposed budget doesn't immediately allot money to address "chronic issues" like inaccurate water bills, dilapidated communities and funding programs to help residents find jobs. But he said those areas are a priority.

He said he may soon seek funding for improved billing systems, clean-up efforts and public transportation to jobs.

“You don’t predetermine what the solution is before you have a clear understanding of what the issues are,” Thurmond said. “I want to do the due diligence.”

The DeKalb Board of Commissioners now has until the end of February to review Thurmond’s budget, make changes and pass it.

Public safety employees have said they’ll ask commissioners for an additional pay increase after last year’s, saying DeKalb still isn’t competitive with nearby counties and cities.

Thurmond said his move to fund more police and fire positions is a step in the right direction. The county also needs to focus on recruitment and retention of its roughly 740 officers, he said.

Other budget highlights include:

  • $4 million for repaving about 25 miles of roads. Separately, state legislators from DeKalb are considering a new sales tax to help pay to resurface more than 400 miles of broken-down roads.
  • $5.4 million to build the Tobie Grant Intergenerational Center, $400,000 for Ellenwood Park and $100,000 for Lou Walker Park.
  • Nearly $1 million for park maintenance.