The prediction came during his 2013 State of the County address to about 500 business and civic leaders at the Thalia N. Carlos Hellenic Community Center.
While DeKalb deals with corruption probes into county government and accreditation probation with the school system, Ellis said it looks to the future despite the problems.
“Yes, we have our struggles, but our struggles make us stronger,” said Ellis, who is in his final four-year term. “We have what it takes to withstand challenges and continue forward, and that’s why I’m encouraged.”
Ellis cited the “spirit of partnership and collaboration” between his office and the Board of Commissioners in forming the 2013 county budget. He said the two branches of government worked together to develop a budget “that is lean, responsible and responsive to our constituents’ priorities.”
Since the onset of the housing bust in 2007, there’s been a 25 percent countywide decline in property values. In unincorporated DeKalb, Ellis said the decline is 50 percent.
He said an easy way to balance the budget would be to cut spending in half. Instead, the county will hold the line in most county departments after years of cutting to the tune of $100 million, he said.
But Ellis told business leaders that even with all the adjustments, the county will have to generate more revenue.
He has proposed a 1.69 mill property tax hike that would cost $44.50 more a year in taxes on a home valued at $200,000. The proposal now before county commissioners would give the lowest-paid county workers a 3 percent raise, build a new animal services shelter, and improve delays in the county’s permitting and licensing departments.
“Without that modest increase, it will be virtually impossible to address all of our critical needs,” he said.
While trying to build revenue, the CEO said the county will be challenged to find ways to stem its losses. He said that’s why he and commissioners are asking DeKalb legislators to push an amendment to the state code. It would require the approval of the county for annexation of areas that currently receive county services.
“We have now reached a tipping point where continued annexation will hamper the ability of the county to adequately fund essential services,” Ellis said.
Quoting Frederick Douglass, Ellis said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Ellis made no mention of his own struggles. He is being investigated by a DeKalb grand jury. While he was testifying before the grand jury on Jan. 7, agents from District Attorney Robert James’ office searched his home and office and left with boxes of documents and computer hard drives.
Ellis says he has done nothing wrong. He has hired a team of four high-profile lawyers.