Steady tax rate and pay raise proposed in DeKalb

DeKalb County isn’t hiking residents’ taxes, but rising property values are bringing in enough revenue to give more than 6,000 government employees a 3 percent raise, according to a mid-year county budget unveiled Thursday.

Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May’s budget would keep property tax rates flat for residents living outside cities and cut taxes for city dwellers.

The pay increase for full-time county employees would be their first in seven years. The raise, which will cost the county $4.3 million and take effect Aug. 1, was proposed last spring, but funds for it were held in reserve until an expected bump in tax collections materialized.

“It’s been too long. I’m happy about that, and I wish we could do more,” said Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton.

Commissioner Kathie Gannon said the county should follow through on its commitment to give employees a raise, but she warned against spending too much.

“I don’t think this is the time to spend every penny we can find. We’re not out of the woods yet,” Gannon said.

Property owners in cities will see a one-year reduction on their county tax bill, worth between 15 percent and 29 percent, because of a decrease in tax rates for general county services, such as courts and the sheriff’s office. For county residents, the cost of police services is rising, but their overall tax rate will remain the same because of the decline in taxes for general county services. Cities generally run their own police departments, and their residents are taxed for police separately.

Overall, the county of more than 700,000 residents plans to spend $554 million in this year’s general operational budget, a 2 percent increase.

“We are seeing the first signs of a fiscal recovery. Our property values are beginning to rebound, and we are turning the financial corner,” May wrote in a letter to the DeKalb County Commission.

The commission is scheduled to vote July 8 on approval of the budget.

May presented the budget in a conference room packed with county department heads and two commissioners at the Atlanta Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort at Stone Mountain.

The budget also appropriates $195,000 to create a six-person public integrity unit in the DeKalb County district attorney’s office starting in September. The unit, which would cost about $600,000 a year, would investigate allegations of wrongdoing by government officials.

County prosecutors are preparing for a September trial against suspended CEO Burrell Ellis, who is accused of pressuring county vendors to give campaign contributions, and a special grand jury has called for investigations of several other county employees and contractors.

“In recent years, the casework for the unit has grown considerably,” District Attorney Robert James said in a statement. “The funding of this unit will help to ensure that public integrity cases in DeKalb are handled effectively and efficiently.”

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