In his annual “State of the County” speech, DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis portrayed a series of “struggles” he said would move the county forward.
Ellis said his 2013 budget calls for a tax increase and provides raises for the lowest-paid county workers, that the county should be able to object legally to new annexations of county territory and that the county needs to take regional approaches to problems such as transportation.
“We have our struggles, but our struggles make us stronger,” Ellis told about 400 political and business leaders attending the speech at the Thalia N. Carlos Hellenic Community Center on Clairmont Road.
Ellis did not address recent police searches of his home and office. In a press conference after his speech, he said her had done nothing wrong and that the speech did not seem the appropriate place to talk about the investigation.
Promoters of the event told him “this is not about Burrell Ellis, this is about DeKalb County,” he said. “I’m going to stay focused on the state of the county. That’s why we’re here.”
His speech, he said, was intended “to remind people that struggle and success go hand in hand.”
On the budget, Ellis said the county has to deal with a 25 percent decline in property values, including a 50 percent drop in areas of the county not within cities. He said he has proposed a 1.69 mill tax increase, which would equal about $48.50 in taxes on a $200,000 home.
“After years of cost cutting, to the tune of over $100 million, we are now holding the line in most county departments,” he said.
His budget does propose an increase of 25 police officers this year and a realignment of police precincts, he said.
Ellis said county officials have asked state legislators to change the law so county approval would be required for cities to annex areas that receive county services. “We have now reached the ‘tipping point’ where continued annexation will hamper the ability of the county to adequately fund essential services,” he said.
District 2 Commissioner Jeff Rader, whose district includes portions of Brookhaven, said that although the county’s shrinking tax digest is “challenging,” he could not predict whether the commission would back Ellis’ request for higher taxes.
As for the searches of his home, Rader didn’t seem surprised that Ellis didn’t directly address them.
“It’s a difficult situation for him,” Rader said. “It’s been characterized as a scandal, but it’s not a scandal – not until there’s some accusation. I think it’s unfair to rush to judgment. If there’s any accusation, it will be revealed in good time and then there’ll be something to say about it.”