By John Schaffner
DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis presented an update on the business of the county and challenged the business and neighborhood representatives attending the Brookhaven Community Coalition breakfast meeting Aug, 11 to host and participate in area public forums in order to ensure the Brookhaven area gets its fair share in the new county budget.
The first-term CEO listed his accomplishments to date as including evaluating the performance of each county department, conducting a search for a new parks director, restructuring the police and fire departments and the Recorders Court and coordinating all those departments under one person.
He pointed to the county’s Code Red Program as another accomplishment, where residents can receive alerts on any type of information on their cell phones or through email.
Ellis said preliminary review of has indicated there may be as much as $20 million in uncollected revenues each year. “That’s a lot of money,” he said.
He said the 2009 budget was $29 million less because of the economy and because of the incorporation of Dunwoody. “We made some smart adjustments. There was only a minimum tax increase on our citizens in DeKalb County this year.” He said residents paid about $300 on their tax bill because the state did away with the homestead exemption refund. “But DeKalb County taxes only about $6 per home because of the adjustments we had to make.”
He said the county may have to cut another $31 million next year. “The economy seems to be doing a little bit better. We hope it won’t be as high as that. That is a total of $60 million from 2008 to 2010.”
Ellis told the group of about 75 gathered at the Hudson Grill in the Brookhaven Station shopping center at 4046 Peachtree Road, “We want to give you a county government that is financially accountable. We recently appointed a Board of Transparency and Accountability and that board is charged to hire an Inspector General for DeKalb County … to investigate fraud and waste.”
He explained, “We now have a volunteer group of citizens who are charged with coming up with an operating set of bylaws and make recommendations to me for the position of inspector general. They expect to have those to me by October.”
Ellis said the county was not able to put as much money into infrastructure during the past year. “But what we have been able to do quite well is get our fair share of stimulus funds from Washington.” He said he has a very strong working relationship with President Barack Obama and his administration. He pointed to the fact he had been selected to be part of an urban-leaders advisory group to the Obama administration.
“We still have a long way to go,” he said, indicating the county needs to get its fair share of transit funds and road funds from the federal government.
Ellis said he is working to put together an Office of Neighborhood Entitlement in DeKalb. He said the county’s new Deputy Chief Operating Officer for Development, Dr. Jabari Simama, is organizing that office. The whole purpose of that is to ensure that “we put together a structured package of programs for Brookhaven.
“We want to have a county that is safe, a government that is fiscally accountable, open and transparent, that is efficient,” he said.