DeKalb County Board of Commissioners approves budget during contentious meeting

DeKalb County Government Manuel J. Maloof Center in downtown Decatur. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated. 

DeKalb County, GA – The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, at its Feb. 22 meeting, approved the county’s 2022 operating budget, but not without an argument between Commissioner Ted Terry and CEO Michael Thurmond.

Thurmond said he believes the county has one of the strongest fiscal foundations it has had in several decades.

“Overall, the good news is that we will maintain two months’ fund balance of approximately $137 million at the end of this fiscal year,” he said. “Taxes are not going up, our fund balance is strong and through our EHOST program we will be fully funded to relieve and mitigate the tax burden of ad valorem taxpayers in the state of Georgia.”

The number one issue reflected in the budget is investing in retaining, recruiting and training public safety personnel.

Thurmond recently presented a $1.5 billion FY2022 budget proposal to the board of commissioners. The budget includes $14.1 million to improve retention, recruitment and training for police, fire, and other public safety personnel, a press release said.

“Our men and women who protect and serve the citizens of DeKalb are the most critical components of our workforce,” Thurmond said in the press release.

In addition to increasing the size of DeKalb Police department by 100 officers, the FY22 budget includes:

– Making the pandemic front-line pay permanent with a 6.25% increase for eligible sworn public safety personnel

– a $3,000 retention bonus

– Increased starting salaries

– A $5000 hiring bonus for P.O.S.T. certified officers

– Increased 401(a) match

The budget proposal also includes a 4% cost-of-living adjustment for non-sworn county employees to help mitigate the effects of inflation. County retirees would also receive a two percent cost-of-living adjustment.

“This is prioritizing what we know is most important, which is public safety,” Thurmond said at the county commission meeting. “We appreciate all of our employees who do a great job. That’s why we’re proposing a 4% adjustment for all of them.”

Terry wondered why the county was not separating the frontline pay bonuses based on priority.

“What I’ve heard from our residents, from our constituents, from our own officers that we don’t have enough people responding to 911 calls, that we don’t have enough officers to respond to the Flock camera pick-ups,” Terry said. “I wonder what the strategy is of saying every public safety officer gets this bonus, when clearly the true frontline police officers, where we have the biggest gap in capacity, aren’t getting more incentive.”

During the public hearing on the budget, DeKalb County employee Brian Aaron asked the county CEO to consider giving other employees, like watershed or sanitation employees, a bonus or incentive as well.

“We work extremely hard out there every day,” Aaron said. “We’re just asking if [Thurmond] could, we beg you to throw a little incentive for the sanitation fleet and watershed employees.”

Terry added that the watershed and sanitation employees were hoping the county could help them, but the budget process didn’t allow for that, in Terry’s opinion, as the budget public hearings have taken place in the mornings on a weekday.

“How are our constituents to give any feedback or input when we scheduled a public hearing for when they’re at work,” Terry said. “I’m concerned that we haven’t had any town hall meetings.”

In response to the question, Thurmond said he would look into the scheduling of the meetings and get back to the board.

Terry added he would support a budget amendment that gives frontline bonuses to watershed and sanitation workers.

“I don’t see how we can sit up here and say that heroes of our sanitation workers out there on the front lines, and we’re basically relegating them to standard status,” Terry said.

Thurmond has heard from one employee about receiving a bonus, he said. The sanitation workers received their first raise before Terry was elected.

During the discussion, Terry accused Thurmond of not answering his question as both were going back and forth, interrupting each other.

“After you talked for 20 minutes about nothing, you’re going to interrupt me. That’s the most disrespectful thing I have had to face, and I’m not dealing with it today,” Thurmond said. “I will respect you and answer you if you give me the opportunity.”

Thurmond said he will continue to look at the history of raises in the county’s departments, will meet with the department heads and financial staff to look at how raises or salary increases would impact the budget.

He added that in 2021 all employees in sanitation, roads and drains, including public safety employees, received $3,000 bonuses.

According to T.J. Sigler, director of the DeKalb office of management and budget, other major investments in the FY22 budget include:

– $6.7 million for technology upgrades

– $5.6 million for the construction of a new landfill cell

– $3 million in parks improvements

– $2.3 million in other infrastructure investments

– $2.3 million for capital improvements to the jail

– $1.1 million for the state court courtroom build out

Commissioner Steve Bradshaw said this budget represents fiscal responsibility.

“I also personally appreciate the emphasis in this budget on public safety, which in my opinion is the first responsibility of any government,” he said. “I do realize other departments are deserving of similar consideration as well. I get that and I support that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to address those issues in the near future, but I believe this is the right emphasis now.”

To view all the county’s budget information, click here.

Editor Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this story. 

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