Did you get a water cutoff notice from DeKalb County in January, but no bill in December? You are not alone. Interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May said this impacted about 8,500 customers and he’s working to rectify the issue. The plan is to give a credit on a future bill for any late fees, said May. When asked about fees incurred through using an online bill pay, May said that any fees paid due to the county’s mishap would be credited.
May hosted a county meeting in Dunwoody late last week to talk about proposed changes to sanitation services, but also addressed other topics including the recent mistake in water charges, trouble doing business with the county, and taxes. May apologized for the “major hiccup” with the water bills and said that letters were expected to be sent by Feb. 6 to those affected.
State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) told May and others in attendance that one of the most pressing issues in DeKalb was the property tax assessment freeze. This was renewed five years ago for five years, said Millar, and is due at the end of this year.
“If we don’t extend that at the general assembly, you will get hit with 10 years of tax assessment increases on your homes,” said Millar who has asked May to ask the House and Senate to make the freeze permanent. May responded that he has a resolution on the Board of Commissioners’ agenda to extend the freeze.
Millar countered that the extension is only for five more years. “I don’t want to go through this again,” said Millar.
Commissioner Nancy Jester also asked May to address a 2015 property tax increase proposed by May for cities in DeKalb, but not for unincorporated areas.
“I think we can make some cuts before we start using the cities to start subsidizing unincorporated areas,” said Jester, “which I think is what is going on.”
The increase, said Jester, was 14 percent to 34 percent depending on the city.
May acknowledged that his budget reflected an increase in taxes for people who live in incorporated areas of the county, but said that in 2014. cities experienced a 14 percent to 34 percent decrease. Also, said May, cities participate in only five of eight funds in the county’s budget.
“When we make adjustments in one fund in unincorporated DeKalb, then we have to make adjustments in other areas to maintain the current level of 21.21 mils in unincorporated areas,” said May. “My goal is to have a net reduction over a two-year period (this year and next year) of your taxes.” May said he is submitting his amended budget to the BOC on Tuesday, Feb. 10.
Jester also asked May to talk about moving county services from downtown Decatur to the Memorial Drive area, which she did not support.
“Downtown Decatur is just not convenient to people that don’t live around downtown Decatur,” said May. “My recommendation will be to transition more of our employees and services to a more accessible area of the county, which is Memorial Drive.”
On the topic of doing business with DeKalb County, Dunwoody councilwoman Lynn Deutsch told May that she consistently hears of difficulties. Deutsch cited a recent example of trying to cancel a business license, but also said she’s heard it’s hard to get a business license. “To me, we need a big fix,” said Deutsch.
May responded that this is not his fault, but it is his problem to solve.
“We’ve had major challenges with that,” said May and “we’re nowhere near where we need to be.”
The county hired a consultant, said May, to help the county attain a more business friendly environment. .
Jester said she applauds May on structural changes to ensure ownership on processes, but asked how the county will remove employees who are obstructionists. “I’m afraid there’s a hesitation to fire people who don’t want to work well,” said Jester.
In response, May cited a recent reorganization of the county’s purchasing department where “about one-third” of the department’s staff was let go. Every position was retitled with new job descriptions and everyone had to apply for a position that met their qualifications and skills, said May. The jobs were open to external and internal candidates.
“I was nervous,” said May. “Let’s be honest, in government we get scared about firing people because we don’t want to get sued.”
On sanitation, May said that the BOC was being asked to vote to implement once-a-week pickup for trash, recyclables, and yard waste. After an operational test for thousands of county residents, May indicated that at least 70 percent of residents were in favor of the switch. Without the change, the county would have to increase the current $265 per year fee.
May indicated that to keep multiple sanitation pickups per week, residents would likely have to pay an additional $80 per year. Mayor Mike Davis asked if Dunwoody could opt in to the single day or “stay with what we had.”
DeKalb Sanitation Director Bill Malone said that the county could provide current levels of service for the entire city if the BOC approves. However, said Malone, the county sanitation department could not split services within a city.
Deutsch voiced concern about the new county-supplied trash containers due to their large 65-gallon size. These are prohibitive for those in cluster neighborhoods where homeowners association rules do not allow cans outside of garages, said Deutsch.
If the single day pickup is implemented, said Malone, then every household could opt for a smaller container; either a 35 gallon or 45 gallon size. Initially, every household would receive a complimentary 65-gallon container. A 95-gallon container was also an option for a $15 charge. Containers under the 95-gallon size would be free to county residents.