After cutting about $6 million from the chief executive’s proposal, DeKalb County commissioners have unanimously adopted a $558.9 million tax funds budget for 2013 that contains no tax increase and calls for vacant police and fire positions to be filled.
While they cut $1 million from the police budget and $600,000 from the fire budget, in a resolution explaining their intentions behind the budget, the commissioners said those departments should fill positions that were already funded but were being held vacant— 25 police officers and 44 firefighters.
County spokesman Burke Brennan told The Crier the administration plans to hire 57 police officers, including 25 for new positions.
At the Feb. 21 finance committee meeting, Fire Chief Edward O’Brien said there had not been a fire academy class in three years. A typical class would have 25 recruits. The fire chief also said 20 to 22 firefighters might retire this year.
Commissioner Elaine Boyer said firefighters have told her they cannot take vacations because there are not enough people in the department.
Retired Chief Operating Officer Richard Stogner, who assisted with the budget, told the finance committee some positions should be kept vacant in the fire department order to absorb the medical transport employees after the county outsources the emergency ambulance service. Boyer pointed out the county has been in the process of outsourcing the ambulance service for two years and the contract has not been presented yet.
On Jan. 31, CEO Burrell Ellis presented an amended proposed budget that contained $565 million in the tax funds and a .64 mills property tax increase.
Ellis proposed giving a 3 percent raise to 2,863 county employees earning up to $37,700. The total cost was estimated at $3.1 million. The departments that would have the most employees eligible for the adjustments are the Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue, Library, and Public Works. Brennan said the last raises for county employees were in January 2009.
In the adopted budget, the commissioners reserved funding for a pay increase for county employees but they will decide the details later.
Boyer said there might be a one-time bonus instead of a pay raise or an adjustment for all employees, not just the lowest paid. Boyer was concerned that the county might not be able to afford the pay raises because of additional cost of health insurance when the new federal law takes effect in 2014.
Presiding Officer Lee May said commissioners will also have to decide on the timing of the pay adjustment, which could come after the mid-year budget adjustments.
The commissioners encumbered an additional $500,000 in the hospital fund. Commissioner Jeff Rader said Grady Health System officials have indicated they would raise the reimbursement rates for DeKalb residents higher than the rate for Fulton residents if DeKalb County does not contribute more to the operations of the hospital. Commissioners plan to have discussions with Grady officials regarding the level of the county’s continued support.
Another change to the proposed budget is the elimination the $250,000 appropriation for the Public Safety Director’s Office. Public Safety Director William “Wiz” Miller retired last week. Most commissioners opposed the CEO’s creation of that position and have tried to eliminate it for years.
The budget also included $1 million in new revenue from fire inspection fees and an additional $750,000 from the 3 percent increase in the hotel/motel tax that the General Assembly will have to approve.
“This successful 2013 budget allows us to address our critical needs as outlined in our strategic plan which was vetted through a very thorough, deliberative and participatory process between our Administration, department directors and the Board of Commissioners,” said Ellis.
May also said the budget process went smoother this year because of better dialog between commissioners and their decision early on to have no tax increase.