Budget approved for public inspection

By Marc Alberts

A DeKalb County budget featuring no growth in tax revenues and the lowest tax rate since 1984 was approved for public inspection Wednesday by the DeKalb County Board.

The $6.75 million property tax levy was part of a $24.4 million budget that will be placed on file until a final vote to implement it is taken Nov. 20.

“I think our board has once again acted in a very conservative fashion,” said board member George Daugherty, the Finance Committee chairman.

The tax rate of 0.9648 per $100 assessed property value is almost a full penny lower than last year’s rate. Property taxes on a $100,000 home are expected to fall from $354.50 to $321.61. For most DeKalb property owners, however, this will be offset by rising assessment values.

Although the general fund budget would increase by about $270,000, many items and services requested by various county departments were cut, Daugherty said. The overall cuts totalled about $900,000, he said.

County Board member Robert Pritchard said many hard compromises were made to keep tax revenues the same. Pritchard said, however, that the tax goal did not make the budget process more difficult than in other years.

“In many ways, it’s easier to have a finite goal,” Pritchard said.

County Finance Director Gary Hanson said the county was able to request less tax money for the county buildings because the bond debt on them has decreased. But Hanson also said the real work of the finance department the last two months was to reduce the expenditures of the various county-operated services.

The DeKalb County Nursing Home was asked to implement $272,000 worth of cuts suggested by an Arthur Andersen and Co. operational study.

“We are the main reasons the (budget) savings will take place,” said County Nursing Home Director John Ross. The nursing home cuts will have a significant impact in dietary and nursing services, he said.

“Some of the reductions are not very popular and some may not work, but we are under an obligation to cut $272,000,” Ross said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make it work.”

One point of contention during the meeting was the inclusion of a Hay Group study of salary rates. If implemented, the zoning administrator, assistant superintendent of highways, building and development officer, central plant director and community services director would be taken off “exempt” or managerial status, including losing their management benefits.

Gary Sale, the assistant highway superintendent, said he was angered that he had just heard about the Hay study Tuesday from a highway department union worker.

“You’re talking about changing salaries and job descriptions. It’s never been talked about,” Sale said.

A number of board members also said they did not have enough information about the study to support it, though Administrative Aide Ray Bockman said the Hay study was a topic in a couple of meetings.

Daugherty said the budget was not final and further discussion about the Hay study and any other budget proposal could take place at the Nov. 6 Finance Committee meeting.

County Board member Tim Bagby said he is happy with the attention the budget received this year by board members, county residents and the media, even though it was the result of anger about higher taxes.

“One of my initial fears for a zero-dollar increase was—what would we do in future years if we need to raise more money?” Bagby asked. “If we do a good job explaining the budget process, it will go much smoother.”