Saturday, July 9, 2011

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Now is the time to let our esteemed DeKalb CEO and our county commissioners know that a 47 percent tax increase is not acceptable!  Our District 1 Commissioner Elaine Boyer thinks so as well, penning the email below.  I cannot believe there is not more public outrage! 
Why are we facing this tax increase of epic proportion?  Because our county officials, both past and present, have little idea how to work within a budget.  They have confused wants for needs.  And now they want us to pick up the tab.  We all need to be shouting at the top of our lungs that this is not okay.  CEO Ellis - you need to cut non-essential services.  Now!  I bet if it was your own money, you would treat it a lot differently. 
Please read Commissioner Boyer's comments below, and then email the CEO and commissioners.  You owe it to yourself!

Thank you for your email regarding the proposed millage increase. I serve on the budget committee and we have been meeting weekly & a lot of times twice a week to discuss the shortfall. The budget committee has continually asked the CEO’s office for outsourcing of county services, prioritization of spending (essential vs. quality of life) and long range projections for reducing the size of DeKalb’s government. The CEO is still holding firm with his request of a 4.5 mill increase.

For residents whose assessment value didn't change at all, the 27 percent rate hike translates into a 47 percent tax increase. That's $451 more per year for a home in which its value remained at $300,000 last year and this year. It adds $286 per year for a home worth $200,000 and $121 for a home worth $100,000 in both years.
Many of you are writing and asking what you can do to make your protest of this millage increase heard. I would recommend that you contact the CEO’s office and all of the Commissioners:

CEO Burrell Ellis – ceo@dekalbcountyga.gov
Commissioner Jeff Rader, District 2 – jrader@dekalbcountyga.gov
Commissioner Larry Johnson, District 3 – larryjohnson@dekalbcountyga.gov
Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, District 4 – sbsutton@dekalbcountyga.gov
Commissioner Lee May, District 5 – lmay@dekalbcountyga.gov
Commissioner Kathie Gannon, District 6 – kgannon@dekalbcountyga.gov
Commissioner Stan Watson, District 7 – stanwatson@dekalbcountyga.gov

Yes, your attendance at Tuesday’s meeting at 10:00 in the Maloof Auditorium would be helpful & yes, bring as many other concerned citizens as you can!
The commission must adopt its final tax rate by July 12th in order to get tax bills out by mid-August. The first payment would be due by September 30th and the second and final installment by November 15th.
Time is of the essence on this issue. Please continue to urge the CEO and the Commission to make the necessary cuts to roll back the millage. If you would opt for lower taxes, rather than quality of life programs, your voice needs to be heard.
Thank you,
Commissioner Elaine Boyer

Dunwoody Council to Vote on Bond

While DeKalb gets set to raise our taxes, Dunwoody City Council, at Monday night's meeting, will vote on placing two $33 million parks bond referendums on the November ballot.  If both bonds are passed, and my calculations are correct, taxes on a $300,000 home would increase by $180 per year.  Personally, I am not against parks or parks' improvements, but I am against a city tax increase at this point in time (don't forget, our average water bills are about to double as well). 
Councilman Robert Wittenstein wrote in his most recent city update, "It is absolutely appropriate for us to ask residents if they want to fund additional parks infrastructure improvements with additional property taxes-or not. This isn't the City Council deciding to raise your taxes. It is us asking voters what they want." 
I have a lot of respect for Robert, but I don't agree.  Instead, why not ask voters if they would like to fund improvements to our roads, which are a much more pressing need than our parks. It might not be as sexy, but wouldn't a roads bond be more appropriate? 
Bottom line, road or parks, I cannot stomach another tax increase at this point in time.  When is enough, enough.

20 comments:

Robert Wittenstein said...

Bob,
We considered a transportation bond referendum along with, or instead of, the parks improvment bond. What decided us against it was the upcoming vote on the regional transportation sales tax next year. If that passes, it will provide almost a million dollars a year to Dunwoody for transportation improvements.

It didn't seem wise to ask voters to vote on a transporation bond now without knowing the outcome of the regional vote. I hope that makes sense.
Robert

Terry Nall said...

Bob,

You are right on target. We are moving too quickly and too soon in proposing a parks bond referendum in this climate of tax increases in so many different areas.

And just as an aside, we should give credit to The Crier for opening the window on some pretty murky information from the County CEO’s office. I see that the AJC has also followed up on this issue.

Terry

Chip said...

Blogger Bob:

If you're shouting "no new taxes" just because it's has universal appeal, you ought to provide some rationale for how to avoid a tax increase!!! Everyone "says" DeKalb is inefficient and "can't live within it's budget" but no one (including Elaine Boyer) has developed a plan that resolves some of the essential problems.

Ms. Boyer says we should "outsource services" What services, exactly? Amazingly, DeKalb spends less than 5% of it's budget on Public Works... the rest is public safety, pension and admin, and a lot (granted) of personnel overhead.

The Citizens of Dunwoody (it would appear) to have an insatiable desire for enhanced public safety. Should we deny the remainder of the county that same prerogative?

Let Terry Nall (master of details, not mastered by them!) or Elaine Boyer put together a specific list of recommendations for staff cuts (since that's where all the $$$ go that aren't "variable" or "committed") and then let's have a discussion.

It's indeed hard to reconcile how the county that delivers so excellently in the sanitation department, for example, can also be considered so inefficient that it's operating with a 50% overhead in staffing. Granted that there are some departments that may be overstaffed, there are also some that are understaffed.

If all the "murky information" was made crystal clear, you'd still have to make up a huge difference to balance the budget.

We've had a long history of "personality politics" in DeKalb, going back to Manny Maloof. Getting another hysterical "us versus them" campaign doesn't help anyone.

Chip

Chip said...

Blogger Bob:

Another "modest proposal" to consider.

Following the lead of an item about appealing your home valuations, may I make the following point.

If overall home values have declined about 20% since 2008 (which apparently is a number most agree with) then I propose that every citizen of Dunwoody voluntarily submit their home for a re-appraisal at 20% off it's current value in the digest. This will have two main impacts:

1) the proposed 4.5 mill increase on assessed value will essentially be nullified for the individual homeowner (their taxes won't go up).

2) homes in Dunwoody will become eminently more affordable because market prices will decline to match assessed values.

Now, before all the screaming erupts, 1) go read Jonathan Swift
2) reconcile paying an additional $300 in taxes against declaring your home value decreasing by $60,000 (on average for a $300,000 home.)

It's your money, use it when you need it.

Chip

Ps. And to all those fervent Dunwoody backers, the city would lose about $3.5MM in revenue, so they'd either have to cut back services or raise rates, too.

Bob Fiscella said...

Chip,
Let me ask you a question. If it was illegal for the county to raise taxes, what would it do to meet it's budget?
That's how the county needs to approach this, similar to how a struggling family meets its budget. Unlike the county, a family can't raise taxes, so instead, it cuts non-essentials.
Let's go back to the basics.

Chip said...

And Bob, what exactly are the "non essentials".

to use your family analogy, if the family loses income, they cut out expenses like "new clothes, going out to dinner, defer buying a car, selecting a cheaper college to attend, etc."

Now when DeKalb County loses income, what can they do?

Reduce police and fire? Significant opportunity, not popular.

Close roads. Which ones and where?

Stop maintaining streets, sidewalks, public buildings, etc. How long?

Close recreation centers, parks, and swimming pools. Again, not popular.

DeKalb has done most of the above or tried to, so let's have some more ideas and specifics about "non-essential services".

What exactly are these? Building inspections, permits, the jail, what ones Blogger Bob?

All you "NO TAX INCREASE" folks across the board seem to forget if you want streets, police, fire, parks, etc. you have to pay for them. They do have "costs" and if the economy slumps, the costs don't "slump" with them, just revenue. So what's a real plan, other than "shouting"?

Chip said...

Blogger Bob:

Although somewhat dated (Feb 2011) the link, below, is an opinion by Politfact.Org on the efforts DeKalb County has made to trim its budget even before the Commissioner's reduced it by $33.8MM.

These facts ought to get thrown into the discussion, rather than "just say NO!"

Chip

Ps. You may have to manually cut'n'paste this into your browser.

http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2011/mar/04/burrell-ellis/dekalb-ceo-says-he-wields-big-budget-ax/

Bob Lundsten said...

commissioner Boyer for the past 4 months has been asking the CE to identify essential services versus quality of life.
She had a plan that would have reduced services at libraries, rec centers, senior centers etc and the CEO ignored all of them
It is pretty incredible that the CEO claims that 4 commissioner made the courageous decision to vote for a tax increase. That is Bullshi^^.
The courageous thing for the CEO to do would be cut services and not "solve" the problem by raising taxes.
The Police were protected and no one on the commissin voted against the full funding of the police department.
Chip do yourself a favor and do not speculate about things you have no knowledge of. 4 months of debate went into that vote and you have no idea what Commissioner Boyer did or did not do. You see there was not a lot of interest from anyone in Dunwoody.
One thing was clear, every commissioner did voice the opinion that the current CEO has done a terrible job in planning , forecasting and managing the budget since he took office.
Oh and for the record I work for the Commissioner and attended every buget meeting. Full disclosue you know

Chip said...

Farmer Bob:

"I ain't trying to be funny. All I know is what I read in the papers."--Will Rogers

As a staff insider, maybe you should publish Ms. Boyer's plan. None of the local media have done so; why not?

The "essential services" versus "quality of life" is a canard, and you know it. When Newt et.al. shut down the Federal Gummit in 1995/1996 for a few days, "quality of life" services took the hit. It wasn't too long before "quality of life" issues trumped "essential services."

Let Ms. Boyer take a public stand demanding that we close rec centers, libraries, senior centers and take the "heat" for that.

You know that fundamentally the problem is a loss of value in the tax digest, not excessive services.
As I said to Blogger Bob, come up with some "facts" or "a plan" before you start braying "NO TAX INCREASE" as a knee-jerk reaction.

This is not to say that I agree and blindly accept that 4.5 mils is the right or necessary answer. I am not persuaded however that 0 mils is the right answer based on the current situation, either.

Show us the "fat" and then let's vote on the trimming. Otherwise, you're cutting the "lean".

Chip

Fed Up said...

This hike is crazy, in this economy. Several news stories have talked about the waste in this county, bonuses, car allowances, as well as very large salary increases. People outside of government have lost their jobs.

Ellis is inefficient and some might say he is also a crook, in the manner in which he wastes our money.

The whole property valuation scenario across the various parts of this vast county are not fair and unbiased, and the system is difficult to fight. The same property owners get slammed year after year with these increases. We are also the same owners that have not one bit of Police Patrolling and Presence. And we do have plenty of crime. The woman who came out and valued our properties in the Briarcliff Area was a joke. How do you fight this kind of corruption?

County government is much to big, and this proves it.

Fed Up said...

Chip - You are using some new Voodoo Math in your reasoning -Increasing tax on a property will never in a million years increase the value of my property.

I can't sell it today, and it drops in value monthly. Funny in a rapidly tanking real estate economy, we do not get a real chance to fight this. This level of increase was not hinted at all this year. Thought there might be some minor fluctuations but not enough to warrant a 25% increase in millage/tax formulations. My value did not go up 25% since last year or the last 5 years.

Chip said...

Fed Up:

I know that Commissioner Boyer likes to portray "north Dekalb" as the "victim", but the reality is that DeKalb County is one big boat with services and costs distributed across the entirety of the County.

Your tax rate hasn't gone up in over 3 years, DeKalb County has reduced it's operating expenses by 17% over those three years, and while there is more that can be done, its hard to close the gap without draconian measures.

The "no tax increase" side would like you to believe that we can painlessly cut to close any gap...I don't believe that, nor do I believe that DeKalb County serves the population if it goes the "essential services" versus "quality of life" route.

I want to use the library, I want the DeKalb Cultural Arts center to be open, I'd like the seniors to have a place to go and programs to participate in....I want summer baseball and sports in the parks, I want my trash picked up regularly, and if a combination of budget cuts and millage increase lets that happen, then I'm OK with it.

Possible corruption, good-ole boy networking, and all other personal issues not-withstanding, there isn't the kind of money associated with these practices to close the gap.

Again, I'm not wholeheartedly supporting or justifying the 4.5 mil increase, but I'm also suggesting that the 0 mil increase is probably not justifiable either

Chip

Bob Lundsten said...

Chip come out of hiding and sh9ow up for meetings and committee meetings. engage in open and public debate.
I Kept the /city /council up to date on a regular basis.
All that you say is true. But you are talikng politics on the national level
Commissoner Boyer has gone on record n=more than once that it is reiduclous to pass a 4.35 increase and not offer ANY cuts.Any change in operating hours, any change in service levels
Come out of the shadows put on your big boy pants and engage.
Until you do you are nothing but an a shadow who offers a bunch of hot air.
Some of what you say makes sense but you lose all credibility buy hiding behind that "clever " potato chip.

Chip said...

Farmer Bob:

If some of what I say makes sense, and most of it is true, why is it important who I am? My argument/position is important, who I am is insignificant.

I try to focus on issues and not the personalities behind them. I admit that I am not always 100% consistent, but I would suppose my record is better-than-average on that account.

In researching my comments, I've relied on the main-stream and local press reports rather than "insider" information. Nothing I've said is fabricated or exaggerated, although since it is 2nd hand it does allow for some error or bias from the reporting source that could carry over into my reasoning. (Full disclosure, you know.)

I should note that Ms. Boyer wasted no time in replacing her planning director at the end of March when the incumbent was promoted. Is this Ms. Boyer's idea of "staff reduction" and personnel cuts....or does she believe that cuts should only occur in departments not her own? As her Chief of Staff, couldn't you have advised her to let that position stay vacant in lieu of the pending budget crisis? No disrespect to any person intended...I remember a Senior VP of Operations who once told me, "It's a terrible conflict I have--I love people, but I hate headcount." Isn't that a problem that all of us in management have to come to terms with? I couldn't help but notice that on Ms.Boyer's webpage, the only link with a "coming soon" was "Elaine's Staff". Is that just coincidence or there some issue with how many people would be listed there? When that comes up, I hope you'll accept my opinion on what positions I believe could be eliminated (not people, positions).


Just between you and me, I've lived in Dunwoody over 20 years and most of that time have had Ms. Boyer as my Commissioner. I fundamentally disagree with her notion that county government should only provide "essentials" and not "quality of life" programming. H

Oh,btw, that's a potato chip from an organically grown potato on my masthead. I won't go so far as to say it was from a community garden, but who can really say....

Chip

AZ said...

I still can't figure out why my trash is picked up twice per week. That seems like a luxury everyone can do without.

Bob Lundsten said...

she has no PLANNING DIRECTOR.

A palnning Commissioner which is required by law to have filled.
the $75 bucks a month barely coers expenses of visiting sites and attending meetings.
Boyer was VERY public in demanding the administration prioritze services .
You continue to show how little you know.
Why is it important that you come out of hiding? I dont know maybe it is because if you believe something and throw ignorant and misleading statements around you should show your face and man up to it.

Chip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chip said...

Farmer Bob:

I failed to recognize that the position in question was essentially a volunteer position. I obviously erred there, and I have the egg on my face to admit it. I sincerely regret the error.

Still doesn't explain why the "Elaine's Staff" segment on the website is not current....

Of course, I don't have the access to day-to-day info regarding the DeKalb County gummit that you have; why don't you stop trying to justify your boss' "Lone Ranger" antics and shed some real light on the problem.

I'm not an "insider" I'm not "connected" You have a much greater opportunity to be an effective force for change, but you'd rather loll around calling me names.

Truth be told, your boss has been spectacularly ineffective (although certainly noisy!) in her one-woman crusade on this issue. She boasts of this on her website, so I'm not pulling things out of the air nor exaggerating the situation.

You haven't quantified or substantiated a single opportunity to avoid the millage increase. All you've done is repeat the mantra "Let the CEO put up the plan. Let the CEO put up the plan."

It's hardly a secret that the County Commissioners are after the authority to direct and control the day-to-day ops of the County. I'm not particularly convinced that they would do a significantly better job! After all, the North District of the County is being balkanized by new city after new city, all on your watch.

One last thing to mention, in 2007 there were 25 full-time employees under the Board of Commissioners department budget. In 2011 there are 33 Full Time and 1 Part Time. That means the Board of Commissioners has elected to increase their department payroll by 8/25 or roughly 32% over the last five years. Now, shouldn't we expect to have seen the opposite from such concerned and eagle-eyed budget hawks?

Now that's a "fact" Bob that you should be intimately familiar with. Unless you're going to hide behind executive privilege, just work on explaining and justifying this one item. Then, you can have your wish....I'll shut up, put on my short pants, and have a margarita or brew with Gary Ray Betz for a few weeks...

Chip

Chip said...

Farmer Bob:

Before you go "gotcha!" I know that the headcount increase in 2009 was the transfer of the Clerk's office to control of the BOC. What I don't understand is why in 2010 and 2011 these positions weren't reduced by 10-15% (3-5 positions, plus the PT position posted in 2010) as an effort by the BOC to do their part in reducing headcount.

Good for the gander, good for the goose, you know!

Chip said...

Farmer Bob:

Noticed in today's The Crier that Ms. Boyer wrote an opinion piece.

Still didn't answer the question why the BOC didn't reduce it's headcount, although she took the CEO's office to task for not reducing his.

It's this kind a partisan "infighting" that characterizes Ms. Boyer's approach to governance that doesn't help DeKalb one iota, in my opinion.

Let Ms. Boyer clean up her own house, and then maybe she'll have some credibility.