DeKalb continues to hash out budget, tax increase

With less than a week to go before the DeKalb County Commission votes on a proposed 26 percent tax hike, commissioners and the administration seem no closer to a deal to cut the increase.

The county’s finance director and chief operating officer presented the administration’s most up-to-date calculations to a skeptical budget committee Thursday. The figures show $4.3 million more in cuts from a $529 million budget, but add in another $4.5 million the county will lose now that it must share its sales tax revenue with cities.

End result: CEO Burrell Ellis is still calling for a 4.35 mill increase to the tax rate. That adds about $90 to the average home in the county that lost value, but can tack up to $450 to the tax bills of homes whose value stayed the same.

“I think you’re going to see some more cuts from the board,” said Commissioner Lee May, who heads the budget committee. “The problem is, we still have no final [proposal] to know where we are.”

More than 80 residents showed up at public hearings earlier in the week to blast the projected tax increase. Many called for layoffs and other staff reductions instead of the increase.

Ellis’ proposal does call for eliminating three paid holidays this year for all employees who are not working. The move would save about $1.755 million.

But the proposal also calls for restoring $3.4 million to county departments who have gone over the budget set for them by the commission last winter. At the time, the county commission ordered each department to cut 9 percent, with police and fire seeing 4.5 percent reductions to their spending.

The county’s constitutional and elected/appointed offices, such as that of the district attorney and sheriff, also will get back $6.6 million from their reduced budgets under the administration’s plans.

The overages combined with increased funding to Grady Hospital and retiree health insurance, make up 1.19 mills of the proposed tax increase.

Commissioner Jeff Rader questioned whether such overspending was legal, though finance director Joel Gottlieb said the county won’t have overspent until the year ends in December.

“We’re not overspending it, but we will get beyond what was budgeted at the current levels,” Gottlieb said. “To get through the end of the year, the only significant source of revenue we have is property taxes.”

COO Richard Stogner promised a final budget proposal by late Thursday or early Friday. The budget commission meets again Monday, to possibly announce its own proposal for cuts or a tax increase.

The last public hearing on the budget will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, right before the commission votes to adopt the millage rate and budget.