Taxes and body cameras discussed before DeKalb budget vote

The DeKalb County Commission will vote on a $1.33 billion mid-year budget Tuesday that includes a small tax rate cut, funding for police body cameras and additional money dedicated for parks.

The county’s annual spending is projected to rise by about 5 percent compared to its budget passed in February, in large part because increased property assessments have resulted in higher tax collections.

Despite a slightly lower tax rate proposed by Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May, many residents will pay more on their property tax bills this year. That’s because residential property valuations have risen 17 percent while the tax rate is declining just 2 percent.

The budget calls for a property tax rates for residents living outside city limits to decrease from 21.21 mills to 20.81 mills — worth roughly $50 a year on a $300,000 house. County taxes on city residents will go up compared to last year, but city tax rates are down over the last two years.

“This is a good first step in terms of returning money to the taxpayers,” said Commissioner Larry Johnson. “We want to take an incremental approach.”

During a budget retreat Thursday, incoming Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson began working to represent southeast DeKalb. Johnson asked questions about contracting rules and spending on an ongoing independent investigation of the county being conducted by former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers and investigator Richard Hyde.

Johnson will be sworn into office Monday, and one of her first votes will be on the budget Tuesday.

The budget includes $500,000 for the investigation, though eventual spending could be more or less than that amount.

Other highlights of the budget include:

  • $1 million to partial fund body cameras for police.
  • Achieving a long-term goal of keeping at least one month’s worth of operational spending in savings accounts. By the end of the year, the county would have $57.5 million in reserve.
  • Retaining 22 firefighter positions that would have been lost to attrition without $1.5 million in funding.
  • Restoring $208,000 to the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office to hire four people for its Public Integrity Unit in the last four months of the year.
  • Dedicating nearly $1 million for county parks, money that had been removed in the prior budget.

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