DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis hosted a Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday night at the branch of the library. Speaking to a packed, standing-room-only crowd, Ellis focused on the ONE DeKalb intiative, the state of affairs in the county, and the education and transportation SPLOST referendums for about 30 minutes, then spent the remainder of the meeting answering questions from the crowd.
The ONE DeKalb initiative, whose mission is to preserve and enhance neighborhoods, empower people to make positive contributions, and bring government closer to citizens, “embraces the spirit that unites us as one community, one county,” Ellis said.
He spoke of the new libraries and recreation centers that have opened recently in the county, as well as the two new senior centers that will open in 2012. In addition, a new landfill is in the works that will be converting methane gas into CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) to fuel sanitation vehicles. Water and sewer upgrades are in the works to repair and replace old pipes, “to ensure our citizens over the next 25-30 years that in DeKalb County you will have safe, drinkable water and flushable toilets,” Ellis said.
He then alluded to two announcements that will be made in the coming weeks. Today, the “ONE DeKalb Lives” initiative will be unveiled. This is a housing project that will provide down payment assistance, assist veterans with home buying, and work to stabilize neighborhoods. It will take advantage of a new HUD partnership with a respected lender (to be announced) that will help with the revitalization of foreclosed homes in attractive neighborhoods that will be put back on the market at substantial savings. The main target for these homes will be teachers and first responders. Ellis referred to it as the “Good Neighbor Next Door Program.”
Next week, a new jobs initiative is to be announced, in which DeKalb citizens will be trained to do 80+ water and sewer projects in the county. DeKalb citizens will also be recruited to be a part of a new corps of volunteers working to maintain neighborhood code compliance.
“We know our citizens want to live in clean, safe neighborhoods,” Ellis said, so the code compliance procedures and offices will be streamlined, with trained citizens helping to report code violations and get them through the system faster. This program should kick off before the end of the year.
A question was asked as to what money would fund these programs, to which Ellis replied, “we’re doing our best to make responsible use of the resources you’ve given to us.” He noted that much of the money will be from federal stimulus funds and from bond referendums that citizens have voted on and approved.
Ellis then went on to remind those present that Election Day is next Tuesday, November 8. In incorporated cities within DeKalb, citizens will be voting on Sunday alcohol sales. The rest of the county will have that on the ballot on March 6 during the presidential primaries. Ellis went on to say that everyone will have the eSPLOST (penny sales tax benefitting education) on the ballot next week. He said that his office is working in partnership with the school system, colleges, and universities within the county to bring innovation to education in DeKalb.
There was a question about the relationship between the education SPLOST and the size of the school board. Senator Steve Henson answered this, saying that as it stands now, there is legislation in place dictating that if SPLOST passes, the school board size will be reduced from nine to seven members. He echoed Representative Scott Holcomb’s sentiments from a letter to his constituents earlier in the day, though, saying that if SPLOST were to fail, there would likely be new legislation written in regard to the school board. Both officials voiced their endorsement of SPLOST, but asked citizens to vote based on the benefits it would bring to schools in the county, rather than on its effect on the DCSS school board.
Next July, the transportation referendum will be on the ballot. Ellis spent quite a bit of time discussing this, and there were several questions from the crowd. This will be a penny sales tax over a 10-year period throughout metro Atlanta. Twenty-one elected officials from “all over” worked together to develop the project list, which will go before the voters in the 10-county region that includes DeKalb. Of the six billion dollars the tax is expected to generate, approximately 1.3 billion would come to DeKalb and be used mainly for transit. The full project list can be found at the end of this document.
There was a question about the fairness of the transportation SPLOST, since DeKalb citizens (along with Fulton and Gwinnett) have already been paying the MARTA tax. To this, Ellis replied that he thinks the benefits outweigh that. “I am a realist. We have an opportunity now to add $1.3 billion to MARTA here in DeKalb County. That’s clearly more money than we’ve had in the last 50 years to expand transit,” he said.
In response to a question about facilitating economic growth, Ellis commented that “we’ve had to ‘right-size’ our government.” He said that when he came into office, the county was overspending, and has had to downsize. He mentioned that when it comes to economic growth, “the government can’t be the one doing all the hiring, but we can offer incentives which lead to private sector growth within the county.” At this point, he asked Charles Whatley, the new Director of the Office of Economic Development, to comment. DeKalb has “an embarrassment of riches in regard to potential growth,” Whatley said. “What we’re missing now is a strategic plan.” His office is in the process of moving forward with a strategic plan that will lay out where the opportunities lie in the county.
At that point, Ellis called the meeting to a close but stayed to answer individual questions. Ellis will host the third and final Town Hall meeting of this series on Thursday night from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Community Achievement Center, 4522 Flat Shoals Parkway, Decatur.