By Jody Steinberg

It’s the same story everywhere.

Tax revenues are down and budget cuts are on the horizon, DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader told residents at the Drew Valley Civic Association meeting this month, predicting a $45-million deficit next year even after $13 million was trimmed from the mid-year budget. DeKalb County citizens enjoy a broader range of services and more employees per capita than residents of other metro counties, he said, so the cuts will be painful.

Last year, administrators just “shook the change out of the seats” to cut 5 percent out of the $600 million budget by freezing over 350 vacant positions and tightening the proverbial belt. This coming year, citizens should expect more drastic reductions.

“We used to have fat coffers, but those times are gone. We’re going to have to make some tough choices and retool the way we do business,” Rader said.

Spending cuts, more efficient operations and better use of employees are all on the agenda for Rader, who does not want to raise property taxes. When a resident suggested reducing trash collection to once a week, Rader replied that it’s already a separate budget line and bill, adding that recycling should become mandatory. Reducing the flow of materials to the waste stream will “move people into the 21st century,” he added.

Development plans dominated residents’ concerns, including the high-density Town Center designation for the proposed Symphony Park project at Buford Highway and Curtis Drive. DeKalb Planning and Development is drafting an impact study – a practice that’s triggered whenever a large project is proposed near major traffic corridors. Containing high-density development in pockets is the key to maintaining the integrity of the single-family homes.

The Symphony Park project is still in limbo, he explained. Up the road, Town Brookhaven continues to build, and has confirmed three major anchors including a supermarket, a fitness center and a “big box” store.

A long-range plan for the Buford Highway corridor would be important to controlling the quality and mix of development and assuring a more positive impact on the area. Rader shared his vision of Buford Highway as more of a community and destination than a thoroughfare. Brookhaven resident and landscape architect Peter Dry has volunteered his time and company’s resources to begin a long-range corridor study and streetscape design, said Rader. No plan will lead to a disparate mix of business and residential development.

Rader confirmed rumors that the $6 million in FEMA pre-disaster mitigation grants allocated for the Drew Valley watershed management project have been depleted and accounted for, even though culvert expansions are not completed.

Work had just begun to increase the capacity of culverts under Drew Valley Road before recent storms wreaked havoc again. Roads and Drainage crews were apparently dispatched to more urgent road and bridge repair sites, and work at Drew Valley has ceased. The county will complete the Drew Valley culvert replacement project, Rader assured resident Steve Walker, whose home flooded again recently. DeKalb County is hoping to receive Federal stimulus funds for the project.

DVCA executive board reports include:

Park Pride to improve green space: Neighbors hoped to use the flood lots FEMA established as community green space with gardens and play areas, but county officials said “hands off.”

Commissioner Rader is working to establish a staff position for a Park Pride liaison in the county Parks and Recreation department to advocate for citizens who want to improve public green spaces in their communities.