DeKalb Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis is slated to give the county Board of Commissioners a plan to plug a possible $40 million hole in the 2011 budget.
Commissioners say Ellis’ plan, expected to be presented June 7, is certain to include a hefty hike in the property tax millage imposed by the county. A few commissioners already are balking at the idea.
If Ellis proposes raising taxes, it would be the second time he has done so this year. In January, the CEO announced a proposed 2.32-mill increase to balance the 2011 budget.
But a month later, the commissioners rejected that tax hike and opted for a 9 percent budget cut for all county departments except police, fire services and the Sheriff’s office.
However, that was before county finance officials in May recalculated the county’s tax digest and found that property values had plummeted 13.4 percent since last year.
DeKalb commissioners say that without further budget cuts it would take a 4-mill increase to cover the shortfall.
Ellis isn’t saying how large a tax hike he might seek, but administration officials clearly are preparing the public for a possible increase in the millage. Administration officials said the CEO also is likely to propose budget cuts.
“It’s been no secret from the CEO. He has said from the very beginning we need a multi-faceted approach to recover our budget,” said DeKalb County spokesman Burke Brennan. “We need to make cuts and we need to raise revenue.”
A 4-mill increase would add roughly $154 to the tax bill on a $200,000 home in DeKalb County.
However, county officials say increasing the millage would likely have little effect on the taxes many property owners currently pay. That’s because tax bill amounts are based on the assessed value of properties. When property values fall, so do the taxes levied by DeKalb County’s government and school system.
Roughly two-thirds of the revenue collected from property tax bills goes to the school system. Most of what’s left funds county government operations.
“There are people who are going to say that we’re going to be paying more in taxes, although we will actually be paying a higher rate,” Brennan said. “On the whole, it’s pretty much a wash.”
In some areas of the county, property owners could be paying less in taxes even with a millage increase, Brennan said. Total property values in the cities of Lithonia and Stone Mountain, for example, respectively fell 30 percent and 34 percent within the past year, according to county statistics.
The tax digests of eight of DeKalb’s nine other cities also dropped. The exception is Chamblee, where combined property values jumped 57 percent. County officials attributed the jump to a large annexation approved by voters last November.
In unincorporated DeKalb County, property values have dropped a combined 18 percent in the past year.
DeKalb’s declining tax digest is the latest in a series of budget crises that have put the CEO and the commissioners at odds with each other.
Before the board’s 5-2 budget vote in February, several commissioners said they would not approve a tax hike without a “comprehensive review” of how the government spends taxpayer funds as well as more budget cut proposals from the CEO.
Ellis has said his administration has already cut more than $100 million from the county budget since he took office in 2009.
Ellis has also pointed out that some of his budget-cutting proposals, including closing libraries, recreation centers and eliminating the county’s cooperative extension program, have been rejected by the county commissioners.
Commissioner Kathie Gannon said the bickering between the board and the CEO must end if the county’s budget crisis is to be solved.
“It would be better if we were all sitting around the table doing this together, but there’s not that spirit of cooperation between the board and the CEO at this time,” Gannon said. “Until that changes we’ll just keep reacting to each other.”
“And that,” Gannon said, “is unfortunate for our constituents.”