DeKalb slashes security at county facilities

DeKalb County will run out of money to pay for security by the end of month if it continues at its current staffing level, officials said on Tuesday.

A $100 million shortfall in this year’s budget has forced the commission to curtail spending, which includes cutting security funding from $751,000 to $300,000, according to Chief Operating Officer Keith Barker.

In response, the county is now trimming security at 13 county buildings, including the DeKalb Grady Health Center, senior centers and several office buildings.

The county has been paying Walden Security $25,750 per month to provide security in the lobbies of various county buildings, county public safety director William “Wiz” Miller told commissioners on Tuesday. That cost needs to be reduced to $4,779 a month.

DeKalb Police reviewed each county facility and found the guards' hours could be scaled back from a combined 1,204 a week to 478.

“We don’t have the money to continue running at that level,” Miller told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “By May 1, we were going to be out of the whole [annual] security budget.”

Even with the cuts in security, the county is still short about $150,000. County officials now are trying to find that money in other department budgets and hope to renegotiate the contract with Walden Security, Miller said. It’s unclear if that’s possible. Walden did not return calls or e-mails on Tuesday.

Four security guards now protect the DeKalb-Atlanta Human Service Center, which houses the DeKalb Grady Health Center, the Kirkwood drug treatment center, a senior center and an office building. Under the new plan, two guards will work there, Miller said.

That’s not enough to placate residents who live nearby in Kirkwood.

“The community people are the ones who will be hurt,” said Flossie Mae Greer, 76, a Kirkwood resident for 40 years. “There’s a pharmacy, money and drugs at the Grady clinic. That’s a target for criminals and it’s dangerous.”

Sarah Fitten works for the Fulton-Atlanta Community Action Authority, which is housed in the Human Service Center. She worries about her safety at work.

“There is a mental health facility and a lot of homeless people who come in for the drug rehab program,” said Fitten, who has lived and worked in the area for 39 years. “Desperate people do desperate things. It’s not safe for the workers.”

Greer goes to the senior center across the street, which will share the security guards with DeKalb Grady. She likely won’t use the center as much because of the decrease in security.

“It will not be safe for all of us if you take all the security out,” she said. “These are services I pay for with my taxes.”

Property taxes, however, no longer can fund the level of service DeKalb residents have come to expect over the years, commissioners said.

An estimated loss of more than $1 billion in property tax value and $15 million in sales tax revenue led to the current shortfall. Commissioners voted in February not to raise property taxes, forcing them to decrease about $100 million in expenses, including security, health services and staff.

Miller insisted residents and workers will not be in danger. The only building to lose all security presence is the William T. White office building. The security guards at the Clark Harrison building, which houses the CEO’s office, will be cut 108 hours per week.

Miller said he plans to have police patrol more at all of the county buildings. He already has made a request to Atlanta Police, which patrols the neighborhoods near DeKalb Grady.