CEO Burrell Ellis touts ‘One DeKalb;’ opposes cityhood efforts; supports regional transportation sales tax

By Maria Saporta

At the State of DeKalb County breakfast Thursday, CEO Burrell Ellis made a plea for “One DeKalb” and spoke against the “cityhood” efforts underway in communities such as Brookhaven.

It was the second annual State of the County breakfast, hosted by the Council for Quality Growth and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, that was held at the Thalia Carlos Community Center on Clairmont Road.

During his speech, Ellis spoke of the need for the county to operate with a “united spirit,” while describing a host of different “One DeKalb” programs to help create jobs, restore neighborhoods, become sustainable and to welcome citizen involvement through volunteerism and political engagement.

“One DeKalb represents the heart and soul of the people of DeKalb County, but our work is not finished,” Ellis said, adding that “there are some who would exploit our rich diversity in an effort to divide our county.”

That’s when he presented his point of view about “these so-called ‘cityhood’ efforts” that have become popular in the Atlanta region.

“It is a fundamental right for our citizens to choose more government and pay a premium for heightened levels of service, but it is wrong to impact others who have no voice,” Ellis said.

“Under current law, cityhood not only drives up the cost to those citizens who embrace this option, but it also places an undue tax burden on those who are drawn outside of arbitrarily created boundaries and have no say in the process,” Ellis continued. “Under the current law, there is an even greater cost to us in terms of social isolation, class and ethnic stratification. Simply put, we need better policy.”

Ellis this said he was asking the DeKalb County legislative delegation, the DeKalb County Commission and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia to “develop new and fairer laws regarding the creation of cities.”

He went on to say:

“We need laws that prevent the cherry-picking of the choicest residential and commercial areas while disenfranchising residents in the remainder of the county. We need laws which respect the costs of services to our citizens in both cities and counties, and which take into consideration the unique roles of each.”

Ellis also told the attendees at the sold-out breakfast that they should do all they can to help pass the one penny regional transportation sales tax that is now scheduled to go before voters on July 31.

“We have much to gain, mostly in transit improvements, as a county,” Ellis said. “In fact, approximately $1.3 billion in transportation projects will benefit DeKalb County, while only $800 million in sales taxes will be raised here. This is a great return on our investment. It is appropriate, as well, given DeKalb County’s 40-year support of the MARTA tax, a long with our neighbors in Atlanta and Fulton County.”

But Ellis went on to say that DeKalb is part of a region, and its residents don’t live or work in isolation. Transportation improvements are necessary throughout the region so people can easily get around.

And using a theme that several local elected officials have seized on, Ellis said that the regional sales tax would boost the region’s economy.

“We know that as these transportation projects are built, more jobs will be created,” Ellis said. “In rebuilding our infrastructure, we are jumpstarting our economy. This is a regional stimulus plan, and that’s why it is so important that we pass this transportation referendum.”

During his speech, Ellis also highlighted the fact that DeKalb’s financial picture had improved thanks to an increase in the county’s millage rate last year. As a result, Ellis said the county was able to restore its credit rating and was able to sell bonds in record time.

Ellis also said that DeKalb has been working hard at improving the county’s quality of life.

“Since 2009, we have improved eight parks and recreation facilities, built two new recreation centers, opened seven new libraries with one more on the way, and, in an innovative public-private partnership, we are building a new YMCA at Wade-Walker Park,” Ellis said. “This year we will begin construction of two new centers for seniors, two new police precincts and a Soap Box Derby track for our youth. We are inter-generational, innovative and building a foundation for future generations of DeKalb Countians.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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