Guest Column by Burrell Ellis, DeKalb County CEO

These are the issues facing DeKalb County in 2010: our revenues are down, like the revenues of most state and local governments across the country and, by law, our Board of Commissioners must approve a balanced budget by the end of February.
As with our personal budgets, when our income falls, we must either find ways to generate new income or reduce our expenses. These are the fiscally prudent choices and,    when one is prohibited from deficit spending, they are the only choices.  The 2010 DeKalb County executive budget accomplishes both of these objectives. Over the last 2 years, we have seen an $85 million reduction in our revenues and we must adjust our spending to accommodate this decline.
To ensure that government first tightens its belt before asking more of its citizens, we have proposed downsizing our workforce by eliminating 760 positions—360 of which are currently unfilled—in our 2010 operating budget. The other 400 positions will be eliminated through an early retirement incentive offered to all eligible employees.
The proposed reduction in our workforce alone will not eliminate the anticipated budget shortfall.  However, to cut any further will have an adverse affect on our ability to deliver services and preserve our quality of life in DeKalb County.  To account for the difference, we have also proposed a 1.86 millage increase, two-thirds of which is dedicated to public safety.  The fundamental issue relative to the recommended bare bones budget of $582.7 million is that, without any millage increase, there is estimated to be available only $552.3 million, leaving a shortfall exceeding $30 million.
I firmly believe that government should tighten its belt before asking our citizens to pay more taxes.  However, this belief does not preclude raising the millage rate, when necessary, after reasonable and responsible budget alternatives have been exhausted.
I understand that a tax rate increase is unpopular in any economic climate, and even more so in our current recession. Therefore, to offset the impact the millage increase will have on our citizens, we have proposed granting homeowners a larger HOST credit and adjusting assessment home values to reflect the downward trend in the economy.
These decisions have not been easy, but the economic conditions are real and dire, and the mandate to comply with Georgia law is inflexible.  Since these decisions affect us all, I am soliciting the input of all DeKalb citizens.
I have scheduled an unprecedented 12 neighborhood budget gatherings, hosted by neighborhood organizations throughout our county, in order to gather input from our citizens. I encourage all to attend and share with us your thoughts and ideas. Working together, we will adopt a responsible budget to ensure a vibrant future for all DeKalb citizens.