That said, I offer my summary of the good, the bad and the ugly of this budget.
There is a lot to share here. First and foremost, there is no millage rate increase and we’ve been promised no tax hike next year either. I’ve never voted for one and I never will. Everything in this budget is at the same rate as last year.
In public safety, there is funding for 160 new police officers and 100 new firefighters. While this sounds like a lot, our attrition rate has been exceeding our hire rate for several years. Last year we lost more than 100 police officers, so I support shoring up our first responders. In addition, we are offering tuition reimbursement for public safety officers that opt to pursue a higher education.
In addition, the 2014 budget features:
-Cutting 75 non-public safety positions
-Adding seven code enforcement officers
-Adding an extra $500,000 for road maintenance
-Funding for an internal auditor, something I’ve been advocating for years
-Restoring our reserve account to a full one month [$47 million]. This is key to maintaining the lowest interest rates on our bonded indebtedness.
There is funding for 100 additional cars for DeKalb County police officers. While it is true that our police car fleet is aging to the point of being dangerous, our take-home car policy allows vehicles 35 miles outside of the county. This needs to be reined in. There is nothing wrong with more police cars in the county, but I see no benefit in having them in Hall and Walton counties.
There is also $750,000, ostensibly for parks and recreation, but the funds are specifically for new youth programs. I would have preferred these funds to be spent on facilities that have suffered cuts throughout the years.
In December 2013, we received an initial budget recommendation for $561 million. Since then, an extra $23 million was found, and reallocated, to a variety of different programs, some of which I have listed above. I believe that our first option should always be to return these funds to the people who paid them in the first place — the taxpayers of the county, in the form of a millage rollback.
All things considered, the 2014 budget is comparatively lean and responsible, and makes up for several years of painful cuts that have hindered DeKalb’s ability to serves its citizens. I must say that interim CEO Lee May has actively engaged the board throughout the process, in stark contrast to previous administrations.
All in all, it’s a good budget and good compromises. This is why I supported it.