DeKalb Interim CEO’s budget released today

December 16, 2013 11:52 am

by George Chidi · 9 comments

I’ve been tracking the issues with the DeKalb ethics board for a while, simply because I’d promised to hold a bake sale if the ethics board weren’t fully funded.

For the moment, it looks like I can put away the cookie sheets.

Interim CEO Lee May’s proposed budget more-or-less fully funds the ethics board. It also is a start at dealing with some of the more intractable problems in the county — a police force that is bleeding personnel, big questions about the impartiality of contracting and operational efficiency — particularly at the watershed department — and the move to incorporation by disgruntled residents.

Here are the highlights from a first pass through it.

No tax increase. “Our overall tax funds budget will total $562 million and the total millage rate in unincorporated DeKalb will remain at 21.21 mills.”

Ethics board is fully funded: “As Interim CEO, my goal is to foster high ethical standards for executive branch employees and strengthen the public’s confidence that the government’s business is conducted with impartiality and integrity. To this end, I am including in the 2014 proposed budget to fund the DeKalb County Ethics Board at $118,000 to pay for outside legal services, training for board members, and other operating expenses.”

A new “office of accountability” and an “office of constituent services”: The Office of Accountability would be responsible for Equal Employment opportunity and contract compliance. “This office will improve and enhance oversight to the Local Small Business Enterprise (LSBE) Program and restore public confidence in this program’s benefits and its contribution to economic development of small businesses. … Additionally, this office will be an independent office to facilitate evaluating employee grievances and concerns.” Similarly, the constituent services office seeks to ”improve the quality of life at the neighborhood level. This is done by responding to citizen complaints, questions and requests in a timely and efficient manner.” Both offices will shift existing staff to new roles, instead of using new hires.

Retroactive 5 percent pay increase for cops and firefighters, 100 more take-home cruisers: DeKalb is bleeding cops. “Over the past four years we hired 277 sworn officers, but lost 400. We have gone from 1,046 sworn officers in 2010 to an estimated 892 to date. In Fire, we have funded positions that are unfilled.” There’s also $5,000 in tuition reimbursement on the table.

A 3 percent increase in pay for everyone else, contingent on an increase in the tax digest. “Due to budgetary constraints, employees have not received merit increases for the past five years. Pay was also reduced through furloughs, unpaid holidays, and increased pension and health insurance costs.” The proposal also calls for a 12-18 month competitive salary review.

peachpundit (@peachpundit) December 16, 2013 at 11:52 am

New post: DeKalb Interim CEO’s budget released today http://t.co/YAShJbocNp #gapol

Spacey G December 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Whew. Being the holidays and everything, Publix is running short of those pre-packaged tubes of Pillsbury sugar cookies. I checked.

2g Strategies (@2gstrategies) December 16, 2013 at 1:40 pm

From @peachpundit DeKalb Interim CEO’s budget released today http://t.co/Ii00NTiPTS

bgsmallz December 16, 2013 at 5:56 pm

While I’m thrilled you will not be making baked goods, I’m still concerned that Mr.May doesn’t get it. At every budget town hall I went to during the recession, I kept hearing a similar refrain…DeKalb has a pension problem. And while Atlanta/Mayor Reed took the tough steps towards reform (and Fulton did, and Cobb did, and Gwinnett did), DeKalb has not. In fact, it doubled down by offering early retirements/going through ‘layoffs’, paid out early retirement by borrowing from the pension fund, and then re-hiring those positions…not on defined contribution plans, but on pensions!

The CEO’s budget includes an increase in spending by over a million dollars. It doesn’t include any plan to address the pension liability, which eats up over 5% of the budget. This is not a new issue…http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/public-pension-crisis-threatens-your-wallet/nQrzS/

Spending increases and trying to make DeKalb a better place for its employees first, and its tax payers second are huge reasons on why we are where we are. I applaud Mr. May for trying to address the inadequacies in services, but unless he does something bold, it’s a lot like painting an old house instead of fixing the foundation.

George Chidi December 16, 2013 at 8:47 pm

I’m not going to argue with you about the pension trouble DeKalb faces. It’s a nightmare, and the county really does have to bite the bullet. I suspect they’re waiting for an upturn in the market to address it … which is a mistake, if true.

But, really? A $1 million increase in spending is significant to you? Inflation at 1 percent would reflect a $5.6 million increase in costs. The variation accounting for change in gasoline prices paid by the county is more than $1 million. For every reasonable statistical purpose, a budget that is within 2/10 of a percent of even is even.

If we want to get clever, though, one might wonder when the increases in millage rate to keep the budget close to even during the housing crash will start to fall back to pre-2008 numbers as housing values rise.

I support the increase in police and fire pay simply on the basis of sound governance. The county is bleeding cops. They’re leaving for three reasons. First, the pay has fallen way behind peer communities. Cops are working second and third jobs off-hours to make ends meet. Second, crime isn’t falling in DeKalb in the way it has in most urban communities around the country, leaving cops there with relatively difficult conditions. And third, there’s a small but significant concern about department culture, which appears politicized and in-group/out-group.

Taken together, the retention problems cost the county a fortune in training costs for new recruits and creates a major quality hit in the middle of the force. The low pay may also be contributing to corruption problems in the force, like officers cutting corners on the law to make their numbers for incentive bonus purposes. I note, sadly, that a couple of DeKalb Police officers were indicted earlier this year for running interference for cocaine dealers at $5,000 a drop.

Raising salaries for line officers will cost less than the current talent churn does. And it may prevent bigger issues.

bgsmallz December 17, 2013 at 9:52 am

The problem is that the increase can’t be looked at in a vacuum. Comparing it to 2013′s budget misses the point entirely. The systematic issues with the DeKalb budget have been building over a decade…services decreasing, taxes increasing, per capita spending increasing, long term issues not being dealt and instead squabbles over stupid line items ..so you’ve lost Dunwoody and Brookhaven and a huge swath to Chamblee…and you are facing incorporation of Lakeside/Briarcliff/Tucker…and instead of addressing the issues that matter to those folks in the form of reductions in spending, reduction in taxes, finding ways to get better services from current funding, and/or moves to fix some of the long term issues, you propose a spending increase and a 3 year moratorium on cities?

The cities are coming eventually and the county government should be working towards reducing its size and figuring out how to work within those parameters. However, instead we see the last battle of a bureaucracy trying to sustain itself…by doing the same things that brought it to this point in the first place.

Let’s see…it didn’t work when Vernon increased spending and tried to block Dunwoody through litigation and the ‘city of DeKalb’…it didn’t work when Burrell tried to block Brookhaven by increasing spending, proposed a moratorium on new cities, and tried to get the legislature led by Parent and Oliver to pass a insane annexation/incorporation bill…and so rather than do something different, Lee May is trying the same game plan? Increase spending and asking for a three year moratorium?

The police budget in DeKalb was $89M in 2004. Ten years later…with roughly 120,000 fewer people to serve (not to mention about 30 square miles fewer) after incorporations, annexations, and a decrease in population in the remaining areas of unincorporated DeKalb, the proposed police budget is $115M. The county is spending almost 54% per capita more than they did a decade ago on police services. This isn’t some problem with ‘lack of funding’ …it’s a problem with getting tangible results from that funding….something that I was hopeful Lee May would address…

George Chidi December 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

First, the police stuff.

$89 million in 2004 has about the same buying power as $112 million will in 2014, when adjusting for inflation. So … call it a three percent increase in real-dollar costs over 10 years. There are probably inefficiencies in the police budget. There are certainly inefficiencies in staffing — the department is top-heavy. But not to the degree you’re implying.

About 20 percent of the county municipalized and has its own police force now. However, citizens of Brookhaven and Dunwoody still rely on DeKalb PD for police services that their cities cannot not render, like helicopter and SWAT. So while the population covered has been reduced by about 20 percent, the actual responsibilities have been reduced only by about 12 or 13 percent. Given the competitive element on police pay — Brookhaven pays about 10 to 15 percent more than DeKalb, while Dunwoody is a solid 20 percent higher — the brain-drain creates an additional cost.

I’m arguing that a pay increase for DeKalb PD saves money by reducing churn. A 5 percent increase represents about a $2 million cost. If that reduces churn by 25 percent in the next four years, that’s 100 fewer new officers to train and 100 fewer experienced officers lost. I think that’s worth more than $20,000 an officer in lost value and training cost. Or would you rather have bad financial management because it easier to demagogue?

Are the cities coming? Maybe. Lee May looks like he’s doing what should have been done years ago — taking constituent services seriously. If the county were taking care of business in the neighborhoods the way it should have been, I think the municipalization movement would have faltered early.

A moratorium on new cities will fail, and should. Incorporation is a choice, and a moratorium would impose unfair costs on the groups that paid for incorporation studies. It’s on the county to make the argument and negotiate with citizens.

Criticism of Jones and Ellis for failing to make the case is fair. But Lee May is working the retail politics that should have happened years ago, and I think it’s probably unfair to fault him for it.

bgsmallz December 17, 2013 at 11:33 am

“Brookhaven and Dunwoody still rely on DeKalb PD for police services that their cities cannot not render, like helicopter and SWAT.”- Right…and they are paid for via intergovernmental agreements. Even with inflation, it’s hard to get away from the simple fact that the county is getting less for more.

I’m not trying to paint it into a neat box so I can throw stones. It’s complicated. And taking steps to reduce ‘churn’ and to improve services is a great idea…but the budget misses the point if it doesn’t somehow address the 150,000 or so folks that are looking at a choice between DeKalb and a new city with a new police department that is fully staffed, more responsive, and fully funded. I’ve heard Lee May talk over and over again about the problems facing DeKalb’s budget…and the one chance he gets to be on the other side of the table, he doesn’t address those problems? I’m not saying he is doing anything morally wrong or corrupt…I’m just saying he isn’t being consistent on the things he has addressed in the past…

To that point…
http://www.ajc.com/news/news/dekalb-county-recreates-recently-eliminated-post-t/ncMzK/

Seriously? So you complain about the position of Public Safety Officer being redundant for how many years only to replace it?

It’s weird. It’s like all of the things he’s said…eliminating the CEO position, attacking the budget in the right way, etc. are all being tossed asunder.

George Chidi December 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I find the public safety officer thing as perplexing as you do on its face. I think I’ll ask some questions about that. Patrol officers in the county tell me that the top-heavy administration in the PD grates on them when they’re working understaffed shifts and can’t get a raise.

The last word right now is that officers are being offered a 3 percent bonus check, but only if they agree to stay on for at least six months. (It should probably be called a retention check.) I assume in June, the county tax digest will come back and they’ll all have a better sense of the county’s financial footing, hence the stop-gap attempt to stop bleed.

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