Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Notes from the town hall meeting with DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis [March 13]

The meeting started promptly at 7pm. Mr. Ellis fielded questions from the audience until around 8:40pm, sometimes with added comments from departmental directors. For complaints about County services, the CEO directed a staff member to collect the person's contact information for follow-up.

1) Animal Services Task Force Report

The majority of the questions related to the DeKalb Animal Services Task Force report. Around 20 (?) audience members wore red shirts to show their support for this cause. Mr. Ellis explained the shelter's deteriorated state came to his attention soon after his election, which led to the establishment of the task force; in response to the first question of the evening, he stated that "we have a problem with animal services." He explained that he received the task force report around 2 weeks ago and in the interim, has held several meetings and visited the shelter as well. As a result of these findings and in discussion with the Board of Commissioners (BOC), 10 new positions have been approved. These will be both for individuals to work on the field and at the kennels. These individuals will be cross-trained so that they can be nimble as far as performing multiple tasks (e.g. help with adoptions). 

Mr. Ellis also reported submitting a proposal to the BOC to fix the ventilation system; cost is estimated at around $400,000 and could be in place as early as next July.

A call for proposals (RFP) will be issue regarding future management of the shelter; outsourcing is possible. Information will be relayed to the BOC. Also in the works is a succession plan for a new director. 

It is understood that a new facility is needed; the task force recommendation calls for one with a potential price tag of $8 million. The county is looking at properties it already owns which would reduce project costs. He was not willing to discuss what those potential locations until further analysis is available, but would hope that construction can begin within a year. Individuals ordered to complete community service and inmates should be able to assist at the shelter (although there are some liability concerns).  

Two individual suggested that the County begin enforcing animal registration as a way to support animal services. Apparently, compliance rate is around 1%. Rabies tags run from 1-3 years and that registration runs from $5 (altered) to $15 (unaltered), and (per one commenter) around 80,000 rabies vaccines are administered per year. A quick guesstimate suggests this could bring an additional $400-$800,000/year to animal services' budget. One suggestion was to have veterinarians collect the fee and remit it to the county; another was to hire a collection agency (which of course would retain a percentage of the fees collected). 

Several commenters also stressed the need to educate the public about spaying and neutering pets; if backyard breeding can be reduced, so will the pressure on the county's shelters. Volunteers will also be able to do more in assisting county shelters directly.

2) Sugar Creek Tennis Center (Atlanta) and Mystery Valley Golf Club (in Lithonia)

Several people stated dissatisfaction with the management and maintenance of the above county-owned facilities.

3) Recycling

Several people complained about recycling not being picked up. There was a question as to whether there will be changes to how recyclables are collected, .e., the current "dual stream" approach where paper is separate from plastic and glass (the latter are combined, apparently, to let the plastic reduce glass breakage in transit). Currently, around 20% homes participate in the recycling program and the County will be launching an education campaign to increase participation and gather feedback. In the fall, the recycling "stream" question as well as number of pickups/week will be evaluated.

4) Library Hours

The CEO explained that budget cuts have led to reduced hours. That sometimes, the money is already allocated to a certain project, such as building a library, and the decision is made to complete construction even if staff salaries won't be available just yet. This is done to avoid increases in labor/materials that would  happen if construction took place later. 

5) Sidewalks

A Tucker resident wondered when there might be sidewalks to his neighborhood; Mr. Ellis replied that HOST may help as the economy improves and also, that the transportation referendum has funds for quality of life improvements from its local match and that may also expedite the process. 


Mr. Ellis discussed his reasons for supporting the transportation SPLOST next July (it would benefit the Clifton Corridor, BeltLine, N/W line, and East line to south DeKalb), and reminded everyone that many local officers (CEO included) will be elected at that time as well. 

7) Parents Against Distracted Driving

Ms. Williams asked for help from the County in spreading the word about the dangers of distracted driving,  and that she (and through her Love from Afar foundation) is organizing a distracted driving awareness day for next  April 7.

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