DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis faced questions Wednesday night regarding a number of pressing county issues – property values, traffic, development – but one issue received the most attention: the treatment and care of animals in the county shelter.
"It's an embarassment," said one woman regarding reports that conditions at the shelter in Decatur are deplorable and inhumane.
"I agree with you," Ellis said. "We gotta do better."
Several other residents attending the CEO's town hall forum at on Lavista Road – one of many Ellis is holding this month – agreed. One woman suggested using land from the county's land bank for a new shelter site.
"The [existing shelter's] drain system is so old, it's clogged with feces," she said.
Another woman demanded the county crack down on regulations for breeders, which could control the animal population and also raise money through fines.
A county task force sent in to review the shelter has placed their final report on his desk, Ellis said, and the 2012 county budget includes money for an additional 10 positions at the shelter. The board of commissioners has placed some of that money in a reserve account, however, so he can't immediately access it, he said. But Ellis said he will ask commissioners to free the money.
Ideally, the county would build a new shelter, he said. But DeKalb remains in the midst of a years-long battle with its budget due largely to a $5 billion plunge in property values – a 21 percent drop – over the last three years, he said. The board of commissioners voted 4-3 Tuesday to support a $559 million budget, a 3.5 percent increase over this year.
The county is working to determine if it can raise money for a renovation, and the county's animal services will be outsourced to the private sector within weeks, Ellis said. It's also seeking a location to handle its adoptions.
"Ideally, we would have the millions it would take to build a new facility," he said. "In a short amount of time, we're going to be able to treat our animals in a humane fashion."
Ellis addressed several issues from the crowd. One man said while county property values have dropped dramatically, tax assessments on homes have not. He said he knows several people who have appealed county appraisals of their homes only to have them denied by the county's Board of Equalization, a three-member panel of property owners that handles appeals.
A county tax office official said those appeal decisions are solely decided by the panel.
Another man demanded the county make the quality of bathrooms at county facilities and schools a bigger priority.
One woman asked that a stretch of Briarcliff Road between Crestline and Oak Grove roads near include sidewalks. That project could be included in a current building program or it may need to be added to a future one, said Ted Rhinehart, the county's deputy chief operating officer for infrastructure.
Another resident asked whether the small former library on Briarcliff Road would be reopened. Rhinehart said the 's board made the decision to close the facility recently – after its budget was cut – to make sure the Toco Hill location would be fully staffed.