Ellis’ proposed $547.3 million budget, which was transmitted to the commissioners on Dec. 15, is up 1.2 percent from the 2011 budget of $450.9 million.
It has no layoffs and is restoring all county holidays and ending all furloughs for employees, lowering health care costs for county employees, and implementing the county’s One DeKalb Works job stimulus program and housing initiatives. But the budget represents $119.3 million cuts in departmental requests.
Ellis said he asked departments to operate at the same level they did this year and that the budget reflects his administration’s ongoing efforts to restructure government, reduce spending, and bring about innovation in light of the lingering economic downturn.
“The administration also understands the hardship the recession has placed on the county’s working families and public employees who have been called upon to shoulder a significant burden due to rising costs and budget cuts,” he said.
To balance the budget, Ellis assumes that the DeKalb delegation to the General Assembly will approve an 8 percent hike in the county’s hotel/motel tax and increase the fees charged by Recorders Court. It also assumes that the county will outsource services in up to 32 areas of county government.
The increased Recorders Court fees would raise $2 million, and the hotel/motel tax increase would net $1 million to support the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center and other “eligible purposes.”
Ellis’ recommendations also include $22.5 million for reserves and 80 percent of HOST revenues, which are expected to total $96 million, for homestead exemption tax relief for qualified homeowners.
Over the past three years as it grapples with the effects of foreclosures and declining property values and sales tax revenues, the county has reduced its budget by $124 million from a high of $601.4 million in 2009.
Ellis said Thursday that over that period, property values have declined 20 percent. This year, they went down 13 percent countywide and 18 percent in unincorporated DeKalb.
Ellis said his budget assumes another 5 percent decline in property values for 2012.
The county’s tax-funded work force is also down 900 to 5,034 authorized positions. Another 1,100 employees are funded by enterprise funds for water and sanitation.
Richard Stogner, the county’s chief operating officer and executive assistant, said that 430 of the authorized positions are vacant and that most of them are in public safety – police, fire, courts and sheriff’s offices.
Requests to fill vacant positions will continue to require justification and final approval from the CEO’s office.
Ellis said his recommended budget emphasizes the highest level of service delivery at the lowest cost to county citizens and stakeholders.
By law, commissioners must adopt the 2012 budget by March 1 next year.
Outsourcing, Sunday sales
Joel Gottlieb, the county’s chief financial officer, said that the services recommended for outsourcing will yield revenue savings but that the amount of savings and the impact on the county work force were not known at this time.
“Some of the effort we will employ in 2012 is specifically to increase revenues where appropriate,” he said. “None tax, none property-tax related, business licenses being one of them.”
Gottlieb said that an outside firm was brought on to identify unregistered businesses in unincorporated parts of the county and collect fees from them.
He said also that revenue estimates for the budget do not include revenues from the March 6 Sunday alcohol sales referendum.
If approved, Gottlieb said Sunday sales would start in May but that they have no way of knowing what the change will yield in sales.
Based on the overwhelming support for Sunday sales in the Nov. 8 city elections, Ellis said they anticipate that the referendum will pass in incorporated areas.
“But we don’t know what those numbers are going to mean,” he said, “but it can only be good for the budget because of the way we have done the budget.”
Because the board and its staff were included in the development of the budget, Ellis said he is anticipating a good discussion with the commissioners and hope it will be adopted on time.
“I think we have done a good job of responding to the board’s concerns and we are hoping that the board will see that this is a conservative budget that allows us to live within our means but at the same time meet our essential needs of our citizens,” he said.
But District 5 Commissioner Lee May, who chairs the Budget Committee, told WSB-TV that the CEO had not discussed the budget with him.
By press time Thursday evening, he had scheduled a town hall meeting at Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church in Decatur to discuss the budget.
“Commissioner May will present a general overview of the budget, ensuring to highlight significant cuts and increases in spending along with providing a clear explanation on what that could mean to county services and the public’s tax dollars,” the e-mail from his office said.
Only two commissioners, Jeff Rader from District 2 and Kathie Gannon of District 6, attended the CEO budget presentation.
Rader said that he had hoped to see a reduction in the millage rate.
“The first priority that we articulated was no tax increase,” he said.
“So at least they got that right. Now, if we could reduce the millage rate, even at a marginal level, directional indicators are very important. I am not comfortable with the current millage rate and would like to see it go down.”
Gannon said she doesn’t think this budget will be as problematic as the last but that there is room to tweak it.
“There are a lot of little things in this budget that need to be weeded out,” she said. “I am not just saying the CEO put them in. It’s a shared responsibility to say how are we going to deal with these smaller issues with small amounts of money. How much golf services should we provide? How much arts programs should we provide. What costs should we put into those programs. Those are things we need to look at and find ways to outsource.”
Gannon said the list of services to be outsourced could grow. She said that there have been talks about vehicle maintenance and facilities management but that outsourcing will take a lot of study.
“It sounds easy to say outsource but it is going to take a lot of evaluation,” she said.