DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis delivers his annual “State of the County” message on Jan. 29.

Just a few days after DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis publicly defended his suggested property tax hike this year, he revised his proposed budget to sharply reduce the amount of the increase.

In his annual “State of the County” message on Jan. 29, Ellis called for a 1.69-mill tax increase, which he said would translate into an increase of about $48.50 in taxes for the owner of a $200,000 house.

Then, on Jan. 31, a county press release said a surplus from last year allowed Ellis to amend his budget plan to reduce the proposed tax increase to .64 mills, or about $18.37 a month for the homeowner of a $200,000 house.

County officials were able to cut the amount of the increase after they found they had $8.7 million they could carry over from 2012 to 2013, the county said in a press release.

“This represents a reduction of over 1 mill in the recommended millage rate and appropriately balances the county’s financial resources with our need to deliver services,” Ellis said in the release.

DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said that even with the reduction in the tax increase, the commissioners plan to take a close look at Ellis’ budget to see how the CEO proposes to spend money.

“I certainly think it’s good to have more revenue,” Rader said, “but I do think there are areas of the budget that we need to scrutinize.”

In his “State of the County” speech, Ellis said his 2013 budget plan 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.

He also outlined a series of “struggles” the county faces, but said they would move the county forward.

“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 he had done nothing wrong and that the speech did not seem like 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.

“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.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.