DeKalb cuts positions and then refills some of them

The DeKalb County Commission voted Tuesday to abolish 807 positions, then decided to refill 244 of them.

The majority of the 807 positions have been vacant for more than six months. None of them are public safety jobs, county officials said.

After months of calling for a government reorganization, the commission agreed to give CEO Burrell Ellis more time to restructure. In the meantime, he will have new workers fill the majority of the positions vacated by employees who took early retirement.

“It’s easy to say go out there and do more with less, cut that waste and abuse. But it’s even harder to put your finger on it,” Commissioner Jeff Rader said.

“I still think it doesn’t go far enough,” Commissioner Lee May said. “They’ve had a year to do and still haven’t been able to get us down to where we need to be.”

May and Rader said they are waiting for the CEO to analyze possible outsourcing of county services. Ellis said his staff is working to identify essential services and prioritize everything else.

“You can’t have everything. We’re working to set those priorities,” Ellis said.

To help meet a decline in revenue in this year’s budget, the county offered an early retirement program. About 825 workers signed up -- more than was anticipated.

However, many of those workers were in public safety and other critical jobs. Of those 825 positions, the county is refilling about 600 -- including the 244 approved Tuesday. The commission already had approved refilling 200 of the retirees' positions in public safety and 200 in the courts system; those positions were not included in the 807 abolished jobs.

Because of the number of workers who retired early, the county says it has money to fill those positions.

The commission wanted to abolish all of the vacant positions, but Ellis vetoed that. On Tuesday, the commission voted to override his veto, but then voted to refill 244 positions.

“My concern was eliminating the positions. We were concerned it would paralyze our ability to function as a county,” Ellis said. “It was a good win-win outcome in that the positions were filled.”

But some taxpayers don’t feel officials have done enough to cut spending.

“If we have to consolidate and reorganize to keep our taxes down, then let’s do it,” Viola Davis, president of the Unhappy Taxpayers group, told commissioners Tuesday. “It makes no sense to send as many people as you did on early retirement, just to hire just as many back.”

The refilling of the positions is the result of poor planning on the early retirement proposal, Rader said. He said commissioners were rushed into voting for a plan offered to the whole county instead of certain departments that needed downsizing.

Ellis said the county could not discriminate as to who was eligible.

The commission also is considering a proposal to allow the retired county workers to return on a part-time basis. Under the proposal, workers could work six months a year at half of their retiring salary. They would not get benefits, but would still collect their retirement. The commission will vote on that proposal next month.

Earlier this year, a Georgia State University study concluded DeKalb's government is bloated and recommended 909 positions be cut out of a total of 7,866.