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Where is the Benefit? County Says Reduced Services or Increased Taxes Result From New Cities

DeKalb CEO Lee May: New cities strain DeKalb budget

By Mark Niesse - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As money and power shifts to newly created cities, DeKalb County’s government is feeling the pinch.

Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May warned Wednesday that the county will soon have to reduce services or raise taxes because incorporations and annexations have strained budgets.            
Taxes generated by cities are projected to exceed revenue from unincorporated areas for the first time next year, even though less than one-third of people in DeKalb live within city borders.

“These new cities and these annexed areas are being drawn around the most valuable assets of the county,” May said. “It’s a reality we have to deal with.”

May’s $1.31 billion recommended budget for next year is 2 percent smaller than this year’s spending plan, in part because a portion of tax collections have shifted to city governments instead of the county.
Voters approved the county’s newest city — Tucker — last month. Before that, Dunwoody incorporated in 2008 and Brookhaven in 2012. In all, roughly 230,000 residents out of the county’s total population of 722,000 people live in the county’s 12 cities.

May said his 2016 budget proposal is intended to sustain basic service levels and property tax cuts approved earlier this year.

But DeKalb government leaders anticipate a budget crunch as soon as 2017, May said. The budget includes $173,000 to study outsourcing and priorities.

"We have to figure out a new approach to delivering services,” May said. “What is the appropriate size and scope of our staff here, in addition to deciding once and for all what services are our highest priorities and how do we fund them?”

Cityhood supporters have argued that the county was ineffective in representing them, and their communities provide better services and more local control over their governments.

The county will have to adjust to the impact of cities, said Bill Floyd, managing director for the DeKalb Municipal Association.

“I would argue we’re not hurting them,” said Floyd, a former mayor of Decatur. “We’re helping them provide higher quality services to their constituents. … The areas that have incorporated are places that never felt they had a voice in their government when they were unincorporated.”

Although the county has to consider downsizing, May proposed new spending in several areas.

His budget includes $1 million to fund a financial watchdog position created by the Georgia General Assembly and $8.5 million for road paving and transportation. It also calls for spending $1 million on litter cleanup, $200,000 to hire code enforcement officers and $1.1 million for firefighter equipment.
About $8 million would be drained from the county’s reserve funds, leaving about $35 million in the bank.

Property taxes on city residents to pay for county services would decline slightly after rising this year.
DeKalb’s government workforce already has shrunk from a peak of 7,333 positions in 2008 to 6,057 this year, according to the county.

The DeKalb Commission will review and amend the budget before voting on it in February. Government leaders need to prepare to make hard choices, May said.
“We want to raise the red flag now,” said DeKalb Budget Director Jay Viniciki.

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