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DeKalb Co. receives more budget increase requests

Published: Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 9:18 a.m. CST

DeKALB – The DeKalb County Board can add two more budget appeals to its list of considerations as departments seek relief from a proposed budget that is roughly $6 million less than this year’s.

The supervisor of assessments office and DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau requested an additional $7,300 and $5,000, respectively, which were both approved by the DeKalb County Economic Development Committee.

For the assessor, the request is an attempt to restore some of the staffing cuts implemented this year, when a full-time position was cut to half-time. The additional funding would allow for nine more hours a week to help with increased property assessment questions and appeals fielded by the office.

Pat Vary, a DeKalb Democrat and chairwoman of the economic development committee, said the request was reasonable and the assessor’s office is just one example of the quandary board members face as demands for services increase and revenues decline.

“People aren’t happy about [property] assessments, so the office becomes kind of a lightning rod,” Vary said. “This is one of the places where people interact with the county about their problems, and we need to make sure we have enough people there.”

Proponents of the Convention and Visitors Bureau request say it would be one of the wisest county investments because of the return on the dollar.

The county plans to provide the visitors bureau with $10,000 next year, an amount the state will match. If the county agrees to provide $5,000 more, the visitors bureau would receive another $5,000 from the state as well. Vary pointed to the example of last year’s Hollywood filming in the area, which helped bring in more than $7 million to the local economy.

The county contribution would also come from the opportunity fund as opposed to property tax sources. The opportunity fund is an account shared with the city of DeKalb from revenue generated by certain businesses on Sycamore Road.

But increasing the bureau’s budget by 50 percent in two consecutive years – even if it includes no property tax – is difficult to support on principle when other departments are facing cuts, said Jeff Whelan, a DeKalb Republican who was the lone opponent of the increase on the economic development committee.

“That is a lot of increase when all the other departments have been cut,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind 10 percent, but 50 percent when we are struggling is hard.”

Although the committee approved the increases, all budget appeals also must be approved by the finance committee and full county board. Vary and Whelan agreed it would be difficult for all committee-approved appeals to make the final cut, especially with departments such as the sheriff’s office and public defender’s office seeking significant staffing increases.

For every $10,000 increase in the proposed budget, taxes could increase by 32 cents a person – something board members want to avoid. The other option would be to draw down reserves by more than the proposed $900,000, which also is unattractive, Whelan said.

“You can only spend so much of what you are bringing in,” he said.

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