Guest Column
Jeff Rader, commissioner
DeKalb County Dist. 2

I voted to approve the 2009 county operating budget as proposed by CEO Burrell Ellis but voted against the final version of the budget, which was amended by Commissioner Connie Stokes to include more than $2 million in new spending, paid for by borrowing from a county payroll reserve. The CEO’s budget deserved our support but still resembles the same old approach by the administration and the Board of Commissioners.

The $603 million budget focuses principally on short-term strategies while discounting long-term needs such as maintenance and capital investment. The county has long-term financial obligations that continue to be pushed into the future. Soon, the bill will come due for these deferred obligations, and painful decisions will be necessary to pay the tab.

In a classic example of sacrificing tomorrow to pay for today, the additional $2 million in the Stokes amendment is going to be transferred from a payroll reserve set aside for a 27th payday for county employees. While most calendar years have 26 paydays (every two weeks), 2009 has 27. Those commissioners who supported the Stokes amendment did not say whether they intend to furlough county employees or raise your taxes to get around that 27th payday.

In DeKalb, long-term financial planning is hampered by a budget process that has long been broken. The commissioners and the general public are given limited time and authority to study or influence the budget. This year’s executive budget was unveiled Jan. 15, leaving just six weeks for the board and public to weigh in. The budget process needs to be more of a year-round, collaborative approach.

Stun guns

The commissioners approved spending up to $1 million for the purchase of stun guns. For police officers, these devices are an important, nondeadly tool in subduing perpetrators. The money for this purchase will come from assets seized in drug-related arrests.

However, I have reservations because the administration itself asked for this purchase decision to be delayed. Among the questions under review: Should the department provide a stun gun to every patrol officer or patrol car? If two officers ride in a patrol car, should they have two stun guns in the car or one? If we overspend on this purchase, will other police priorities go begging later this year?

Further, there are unanswered questions about the funding for this purchase. Last year the Police Department submitted a request to buy stun guns out of the county’s general operating funds. When I floated the possibility of using the seized drug funds for this purchase, the department balked and withdrew its request, saying the expenditure was impermissible under regulations. Less than a year later, the department is reversing itself by agreeing to the use of the seized funds, totaling about $2 million.

This flip-flop gives the impression that police management was not putting all the cards on the table. I therefore requested an explanation of how the department plans to make decisions about remaining and future seized drug funds.

Alcohol ordinance

This legislation, which I introduced, is a companion piece to the late-night-establishment ordinance. The latter legislation, also mine, passed in November after more than a year’s work.

The late-night ordinance specifies that covered establishments must obtain a special land-use permit (SLUP). The SLUP gives the county authority to reject the application or impose reasonable restrictions to protect the interests of surrounding neighborhoods and the general community.

The more recent revision to the alcohol ordinance mandates that nightclubs and late-night establishments must post their SLUP and operating hours in a prominent location, visible to the public. This helps to educate the customers, neighbors and police officers about any requirements imposed on the establishment to remain in compliance with the law.