A modest property tax cut, police body cameras and money to clear government land for economic development are some of the key items included in DeKalb County’s $1.33 billion budget that passed Tuesday.
The county commission approved the budget on a 4-3 vote, with opponents seeking a bigger tax break and less spending.
Here are the details:
The county’s property tax rate for residents living outside city limits will shrink for the first time since 2004, but many residents will end up paying higher tax bills anyway because property assessments are rising.
Tax rates will drop this year from 21.21 mills to 20.81 mills, which is worth roughly $50 a year on a $300,000 house. The tax cut means the county will collect about $8 million less this year than it otherwise would.
But residential property assessments have risen 17 percent in DeKalb this year.
Still,“it’s a sign that we’re moving in the right direction,” May said after the vote.
For residents living in incorporated areas, county taxes will go up compared to last year, but city tax rates are down over the last two years combined.
About $1 million in start-up funding will begin the process of equipping front-line police officers with body cameras next year.
When combined with another $1 million in grant money sought from the federal government, the county hopes to buy cameras for nearly 500 uniformed officers. Many police departments in Metro Atlanta and across the nation have begun using the cameras following several high-profile fatal shootings by police.
“It’s such an issue across the country today. It allows all of us to have more transparency,” said Cedric Alexander, DeKalb’s director of public safety. “It gives us a different angle and gives us more information when we have incidents that occur that may be of some concern. It’s not the end all and be all, but what it does is captures more information for us.”
A late addition to the budget includes $3 million for demolition of old government buildings on 117 acres of land behind the DeKalb County Jail along Memorial Drive.
May said that land could be used for a future public-private partnership or for a “Downtown DeKalb” project that consolidates government services. Interim CEO Lee May proposed the government center in his State of the County address in January.
The commission held back spending on investigators looking into the county. Commissioners took out $500,000 that had been proposed for an ongoing investigation being led by former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, and they cut $208,000 that had been requested by District Attorney Robert James to hire four employees in his Public Integrity Unit in the last four months of the year.
The lack of funding doesn’t stop the investigations, and commissioners said they will consider allocating that money in the future if those expenses can be justified.
“I just want a little more time to look into it and find out what the unintended consequences might be,” said Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, who cast her first votes after being sworn into office Monday. “I’m definitely not opposed to it. I just need more information.”
Commissioners who opposed passing the budget wanted stricter controls on government spending and a larger tax cut.
But the four commissioners supporting the budget, including Johnson, said it increases the county’s savings and allows the county to maintain current staffing levels of firefighters and sheriff’s deputies.
Commissioner Kathie Gannon, who voted against the budget, said the government should be more careful with taxpayers’ money. She said if the cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker are approved in November referendums, the county will have to downsize as some government services shift to the cities.
“I don’t think this is the time for the county to take every single penny they can find with the increased value of our homes and spend it all,” Gannon said. “We should be getting smaller.”