According to our online readers, it depends on how you ask.
For several weeks now, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has been deadlocked over who has the best plan to pay more for police officers in the county.
Both sides agree that more police are needed, and both plans include pay increases for existing police officers. The 2008 budget passed by commissioners includes funds for 127 new officers. The impasse is over the best way to pay for the pay increases.
On one side, Commissioners Burrell Ellis, Elaine Boyer, Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader voted on March 11 to cut funding for all non-public-safety departments by 1.25 percent.
On the other hand, District 3 Commissioner Larry Johnson has proposed a 0.21 mill increase to the property tax rate, which translates to an extra $20 a year in taxes for a $300,000 home. Johnson's plan, which has the support of Commissioners Lee May and Connie Stokes, would fund 4 percent increases for all police and firefighters, atop a 4 percent merit pay increase already approved for all county employees.
According to Ellis, who is also running for DeKalb CEO, their plan would save the county $4.5 million, enough to fund 127 new police officers, restore 27 police positions cut by CEO Vernon Jones in his proposed 2008 budget, and provide "an across-the-board 4 percent merit increase for all sworn officers, including Police, Fire, the Sheriff's Department, Marshall's office, District Attorney's office, Solicitor General's office, State Court Probation officers, and Medical Examiners Office."
Ellis said their plan would also renew funding to programs for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse that had been completely cut in the CEO's budget.
He and the others also point to forensic audit by KPMG - that found millions of dollars paid to vendors without contracts, or whose payments far exceeded the contracted amount, and payments apparently structured to circumvent county purchasing procedures - as evidence that county spending can be reined in.
Jones vetoed the Ellis plan on March 12, and instead has lobbied for Johnson's plan. Proponents of Ellis' plan lack enough votes to override the veto, but have effectively blocked Johnson's plan from passage.
Interesting trend emerges
To get a feel for the pulse of the public, we polled readers at www. crossroadsnews.com. Most respondents agreed that more police are needed. However, we found interesting results depending on how we phrased the poll question.
First, we asked which plan was best based on where the money would come from - i.e., by raising taxes or trimming the budget. Ellis' plan to trim the budget was a clear favorite, with 58 percent of the votes, followed by a combination with 25 percent [See Table 1]. Only 13 percent favored Johnson's plan to raise taxes, and a handful of respondents - 4 percent - felt the issue is moot because "we don't need more police."
Then we changed the poll question, and asked who had the better plan to pay for more police - Johnson, Ellis, a combination of the two, or neither [See Table 2].
When phrased this way, putting the emphasis on the individual proponents, more respondents chose Johnson's plan (41 percent), followed by Ellis's plan at 29 percent, and a combination coming in third with 18 percent. A few more respondents (12 percent) said we don't need more police.
What does this mean?
Because online polls are strictly voluntary, and respondents can and may often vote more than once, such polls are not considered scientific.
But clearly, most people who responded to our online poll want more police officers in DeKalb County, and they seem willing to pay for them in one way or another.
But it's also apparent that some of the respondents based their support on the personalities involved, not the issues.
This raises a disturbing scenario, in which decisions are made not based on the merits of each plan, but on the people behind them.
Jennifer Parker is editor and publisher of CrossRoadsNews.