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David Pendered

DeKalb County advancing plans for improved infrastructure despite hard times, tax digest that dropped by half

By David Pendered

DeKalb County is a close-to-home example of communities across the country that are in the vice grip of hard times – DeKalb’s tax digest has plummeted and the school district is on probation.

Burrell Ellis fuels with CNG

DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis fuels a vehicle with CNG at a facility built during the economic downturn, this one built south of Decatur with assistance from Clean Cities Atlanta. File/Credit: energysystemsgroup.com

Despite the times, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis is pushing ahead with an ambitious infrastructure agenda – just a month after his uncontested reelection bid in November and five months after voters rejected a proposed regional transportation sales tax.

To DeKalb’s current $1.345 billion water and sewer program, Ellis would add roads and sidewalks; an animal shelter; and police facilities. The state Legislature will be asked to approve methods of paying for the some of the projects.

In addition to the proposed roads and sidewalks, Ellis’ budget proposes $900,000 to renovate the Bobby Burgess facility on Memorial Drive for a Central Police Precinct; and $9 million for a new facility to replace the police precinct in Lithonia and to provide space for a joint training facility.

There’s also up to $7.6 million for a new animal shelter that has been in the works for several years. It’s slated to open in July 2014, according to the budget proposal.

At this time, the road program doesn’t have a list of specific projects it would fund. But a few things appear certain:

  • The proposed sales tax would pay for road and sidewalk projects intended to improve mobility, rather than induce development;
  • The tax would not pay to expand MARTA service or operations, or other transit projects.

The county has a long backlog of transportation projects that are ready for construction, according to Ellis budget proposal.

Many are eligible for matching funds from the state and/or federal governments. The matching funds can be drawn only if the county has the money to put up its share.

As the CEO wrote in his recommended budget:

  • “In 2013, we will seek the Georgia Legislature’s approval for a local option sales tax for Transportation purposes, in order to address this growing backlog of street resurfacing, sidewalks, intersection safety and congestion relief and related projects.”

Meanwhile, DeKalb is proceeding with its water and sewer improvement program and is in “excellent standing” with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia Environmental Protection Division, according to the budget proposal. The work is slated to last 8.5 years.

The county has encumbered $300 million of the $1.345 billion bond package the Board of Commissioners approved two years ago. The status of the projects includes:

  • Under construction: Replacement Snapfinger wastewater plant;
  • Under construction: Lower Crooked Creek forced main;
  • Ready for bids: Phase two of the Snapfinger project.

Nonetheless, DeKalb continues to encounter major sewer spills.

An estimated 33,420 gallons spilled into Indian Creek from a broken main on Dec. 5, according to a county report of just one recent major spill. Crews worked more than four hours to contain the spill, and finally determined that the main had been clogged by more than 200 pounds of rubble rock.

All this construction, both planned and underway, is unfolding at a time the value of the county’s portion tax digest has fallen by half since 2008, according to the budget recommendation Ellis unveiled Dec. 14. Some of that is due to depressed property values; some stems from the incorporation of Brookhaven and Dunwoody.

Another major challenge is the announcement Monday that the region’s accrediting agency has placed the county school system on a 12-month probation.

In addition to the impact on students, which goes with out saying, the threat could play havoc with home sales in Georgia’s third most-populated county.

“The loss of accreditation is imminent. This system must take decisive and proactive action, beginning today,” said Mark Elgart, president/CEO of AdvancED, the parent company of accrediting agency Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, according to a clip that aired on WSB-TV.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



  1. hgrady December 18, 2012 9:30 am

    Just so we’re clear…the county says the tax digest dip and Brookhaven is going to cost them $36M in revenue but they are going to increase the millage rate by 8% so that they can RAISE the amount of spending in the budget rather than make any adjustments based upon the lack of revenues and/or the fact that they don’t have to provide services to roughly 50,000 people anymore???…and on top of that, since they can’t pay for infrastructure from the tax funds budget because they have refused to prioritize and they can’t just tap Dunwoody/Brookhaven anymore…they are going to throw a county wide sales tax increase on top of that?  
    I wish the media in this town would hold DeKalb accountable.  They take what the CEO’s office spoon feeds them and don’t even fact check it. 
    You want to know what the list of ‘transportation projects’ is?  Look at DeKalb’s T-Splost unrestrained submissions. http://www.metroatlantatransportationvote.com/documents/6-8-2012_unconstrained_list.pdf
     DeKalb was the only county that tried to submit mile after mile of local paving and maintenance into the T-Splost list as ‘regional’ projects because it needs a regional bailout in order to do the simple task of repaving its roads.  
    Let’s just say that Dekalb saves the $10M from bond refi’s as expected and they cut net spending by even a measly 1.5% in reflection of the loss of roughly 10% of the population to Brookhaven …they wouldn’t have to raise the millage rate…or they could raise the millage rate by half of the proposed raise and have enough to fund $7M in transportation infrastructure each year AND give $1.5M in raises to the employees earning $37K or less.  
    DeKalb’s problem isn’t revenue…it’s a lack of responsibility in its budgeting and the local media is complicit by not reporting the hard facts and instead pushing the stories that its being spoon fed by the county government.Report


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