Cobb taxpayers will foot cost of a gift that keeps giving
November 29, 2012 12:29 AM | 4561 views | 22 22 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
COBB GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES have reason to smile this Christmas season. But Cobb taxpayers? Not so much.

The County Commission voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve Chairman Tim Lee’s plan to give employees a 3 percent across-the-board pay hike totaling $4.5 million.

The raises for the county’s 4,182 full-time and 782 part-time employees will be the first in five years and no doubt will be welcomed. As Lee has said, they have been “busting their butts” on behalf of the county.

We don’t doubt that. But private-sector employees in Cobb have been working just as hard, or harder. The fact is that the private sector has been doing more with less than ever before. And for the most part, the private sector has been foregoing raises or end-of-year bonuses for years.


ONE THING IS FOR SURE in the wake of the recent presidential election: Taxes for most of Americans soon will be going up. The cost of living will keep going up, too.

Moreover, Obamacare looks like it is here to stay — and businesses are quietly but most assuredly slashing payroll and expenses in preparation for it.

There is a growing distrust of government at all levels across the country. Cobb and its six cities can do their part to help rebuild that trust by keeping the taxpayers’ interest first. That means continuing to look for ways to shrink government and lower taxes — not ways of growing the two.

That lack of trust could have important implications on future SPLOST votes as well. The most recent county SPLOST passed by just 89 votes, and many are already speculating that the school SPLOST coming in March will be DOA. Handing out thousands of raises totaling millions of dollars during a time of such economic uncertainty sends the message that government is more important than taxpayers. That’s a message that’s been delivered far too often through the years.


LEE’S PAY RAISES are being funded by a $4.5 million surplus in the county’s medical and dental account. Meanwhile, the county enjoyed a budget surplus of nearly $18 million in FY12, which ended Sept. 30. That’s a welcome development after several years of seeing the budget and tax digest hammered by the recession.

But let’s not forget that the commission raised the property tax rate last year, although Lee says the tax hike had no bearing on the resulting surplus.

Lee and the commission agreed on Tuesday to give back a small piece of that increase to taxpayers. The general fund millage will be cut by 0.2 mills. And he says he hopes to keep rolling the millage back by 0.2 mills per year till it gets back to the 9.6 mills, where it was before last year’s increase.

We hope if excess funds are found in the future, the commission will see fit to accelerate the 5-year rollback plan in favor of the taxpayer.

Also on Tuesday, the Commission took welcome steps to deep-six a proposed water-rate fee increase that had been planned for January.


LEE REASSURED his fellow commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting that “leading economists” had told him the pay raises are sustainable. Is he “whistling past the graveyard”? Perhaps. After all, economist Albert W. Niemi Jr., dean of the business school at SMU, told Cobb business leaders at an annual business forecast breakfast Tuesday at the Cobb Performing Arts Center that the economy will not rebound to pre-recession numbers until 2025. Moreover, the White House and Congress seem determined to send the country “off the fiscal cliff,” which could send the economy back into free-fall. And more layoffs are expected at one of the county’s biggest private employers, Lockheed Martin.

All in all, it’s a dicey scenario in which to be coughing up across-the-board raises. The better approach would have been to hand out year-end bonuses, as suggested by southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott and others. They would have rewarded employees without committing the county — and taxpayers — for years to come.

“We don’t know what funds will be available in the future,” Ott said. “Yes, there are some economic indicators that show recovery. However, in light of upcoming changes to the tax laws and health care, the county needs to ensure those indicators remain strong before committing to a permanent change in the salary structure.”

But instead, Lee and the other four commissioners decided to splurge and hand out raises — “a gift that keeps giving.” And it’s Cobb taxpayers who will be doing the giving.

Comments
(22)
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Sybilmae
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November 30, 2012
The County employees deserve a raise. They invented more with less. Does Cobb County want to retain it's quality employees? I have worked in the Private Sector for years. Depends on where you are if you receive a raise and/ or bonus. Public or Private sector.....it should be based on Merit
THE TRUTH
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November 30, 2012
We live in a great community with a fiscally responsible government that reflects the community it serves. It is not unreasonable that employees who provide the citizens a service would receive this modest raise now that it is feasible to do so.

I applaud this move by the Commission and my only complaint is that it was not a 5-0 vote in favor.
Cobber42
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November 30, 2012
Although I realize that it was a raise for all coounty employee's, I for one am glad to see the folks in Public Safety get a much needed raise. One of the best things about our county is the quality of services we enjoy and the fact that we aren't like Atlanta, Fulton County, Dekalb County, and Clayton County. I retired here in this county and have seen the many changes over the years, some good and bad. Of a larger concern to me is the fact that I know the police department has lost nearly 150 officers in the past two years to better opportunities that have not all been replaced but our county continues to grow. It boils down to you get what you pay for and if I wanted to be in Atlanta, I would have retired there.
Maatf
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November 29, 2012
The first raise in five years and people are carping. We are very lucky in Cobb County in the quality of services we have and the quality of people who provide those services to us. Good for Lee. It was time.
VFP42
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November 29, 2012
Cobb's employees are getting a 3% raise after 5 years. That takes a $30,000 employee to 30,900, not that many Cobb employees even earn that much.

Supposing they'd been receiving 2% raises each year for the last 5 years:

2008: 30000 2% = 30600

2009: 30600 2% = 31212

2010: 31212 2% = 31836

2011: 31386 2% = 32472

2012: 32472 2% = 33122

2% is the most useless raise I can imagine being given, but $33,122 - $30,900 is $2,222 that a Cobb employee is STILL behind in salary compared to the most useless annual raise I can think of.

In real dollars, a $30,000 employee has lost $9,242 over the last 5 years by not even getting a paltry 2% raise.

SO... If we are to have Cobb Government, and thus Cobb Government employees, let's treat them like human beings, huh? Otherwise if we can't do that, let's shut Cobb Government down and join, um, Fulton? Cherokee? Bartow? City of Atlanta?

You pick one you like and we'll join them. Otherwise let's keep Cobb Government and at the very least try to keep the employees up with inflation.

And yes, I know the sick leave buy back bonus is voluntary and that not all Cobb employees do that. If you want it, though, it's an existing way for you to get a (nearly) 2% bonus in December.
Pressure off me
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November 29, 2012
Wow 14 bucks a week I can get 4 and half gallons of gas. O wait a minute I forgot about having to pay people's food stamps and Obama money maybe I'll get 2 and half gallons.
leChat
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November 29, 2012
As a business owner, I never considered it a "gift" to pay my employees what they were worth to do the jobs I required of them. We, the taxpayers of Cobb, require and receive certain services. We should either cut back and do without, or quit carping about "giving" a reasonable level of pay for them.
Cobb employee
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November 29, 2012
When the public sees reports of government employees making over 100,000 dollars a year they assume county employees are making huge salaries. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have been an employee for 15 years and do not make the national average pay in this country. We have seen our health care cost and other employee contributions constantly rise for years. I bring home less than I did 8 years ago. If it makes you feel better a lot of county employees have lost there homes just like others who are struggling across this country.
Power_Company
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November 29, 2012
Pension?

HappyHere
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November 29, 2012
Yep, pension cuts too. Effective in 2010 the pension plan was changed for all new employees to something more like a 401K with an employer match. Also, all new employees hired after 1/1/09 must work for 10 years rather than 7 years before becoming vested in the plan. As of 1/1/09 employees reaching age 65 must have 7 years of service rather than 5 years in order to receive a pension benefit. Calculating a pension benefit changed too in 2009, so that the highest 5 of the last 10 years average salary is used rather than the highest 3 (that more likely includes some lower salary years in the calculation). Because it was underfunded, Cobb County did have to increase its employer contribution to the retirement fund but employees shared that burden with employee contributions increasing over the next 5 years; ¼ percent per year from 5 to 6.25 percent beginning 3/1/09.
MPCato
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November 29, 2012
"And for the most part, the private sector has been foregoing raises or end-of-year bonuses for years."

Really? Show me a company with a high demand for its services that furloughs its trained employees, cuts bonuses, and drives them away by paying below market. We should just pay the people we depend on as if we're in the buggy-whip industry, huh?
My Two Cents.....
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November 29, 2012
Coca-Cola, HP, IBM, Newell-Rubbermaid....the list goes on and on. Pay freezes, cuts, layoffs, IC cut....and they are all profitable.
MPCato
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November 29, 2012
$.02----HP? Seriously? Besides, even if true, all of those are diverse, multi-nationals that could have problems/layoffs/closures in one division and still show overall profitability and have completely different circumstances in another segment of their operations. Not exactly analogous Cobb.
My Two Cents.....
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November 29, 2012
I am not saying that county employees aren't worth it...not by a long shot. My grandfather did county work, by all accounts did a fine job and loved his career. He also worked a second job to keep his family afloat whenever he needed to. There are many hard-working people throughout the county that deserve better.

I do think it is a little misguided to suggest it has been a cake walk for those of us in the private sector the last 4 years. I have watched dedicated professionals get laid-off, not because their businesses weren't profitable, but because of the uncertainty of the times and future economic worries. These folks have lost homes, savings, ALL retirement options and hope. I do not remember Cobb laying-off. Yes, people lost wages in thwe form of furloughs, but by and large they have kept some semblence of an income coming in while keeping most of their benefits. I am not taking away from them any wish of money or opportunity, but let's be honest, they have a safety net maybe the public at large does not enjoy, and that is worth something.
HappyHere
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November 29, 2012
I know my comment won't convince anyone but I have to say it anyway. Those who consider these pay raises a cost to taxpayers should actually consider it a savings. Every boss in private industry knows that it costs more money to recruit and train new employees than it does to retain current employees. No one has been complaining about the costs over the last few years of losing employees to other jurisdictions and to private industry because wages haven't stayed competitive in Cobb County. Constantly hiring and training new kids to work at McDonald's is expected but do you really want your police force to have a revolving door of top talent leaving and new recruits coming in to be trained? Your fire department? Water treatment personnel? Those who say it should have been a bonus and not a raise should consider that when a good employee is being recruited, they're going to compare their current salary to the new one, they won't consider that they got a one time bonus back in 2012. If we want good quality services and the people who provide those services, we have to invest in keeping them.
Church Streeter
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November 29, 2012
If county employees were paid in line with the private sector, then there'd be something to crow about. The finances are sound, the budget is balanced and the measure was supported by 80% of the officials elected to represent our county.

We in Cobb County enjoy some of the lowest tax rates in the entire Metro Atlanta area. For as much whining and complaining that goes on around here, you'd think that would count for something.
Well Said
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November 29, 2012
Deals were made...interesting that this happened before the new board member took office.
Well Said
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November 29, 2012
I could not agree more. The Chairman is pandering to county employees. I think they should get something along the lines of a bonus since we have the money this year, but have no idea about next year. It's funny this comes a day after the Speaker comes to Cobb to tell us the state has a $300 million dollar short fall.
No Matter How
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November 29, 2012
The Commission granted us employees any type of pay increase, you would whine about it. IF services had been suffering during the past five years, you'd be all over it too.
Cobb Taxpayer
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November 29, 2012
I'm not sure why you are anyone else is attacking the employees of the county for getting a much needed raise. If you want to cut govenment spending it does not have to be on the backs of employees. They should make a reasonable salary and be able to struggle just like all people do. This small raise is not what would put the county over the edge, but wasteful spending on projects that are not needed could. The focus should be turned toward where the millions of dollars are spent each year on county improvement projects, upgrades that are not needed etc. The County government has already slashed positions that it determined it could do without to a point that it barely operates with the people it has. I feel your artical was inflamitory to the people that work for and live here as tax payers in cobb. The employees have to make a living and they are not getting rich off of an average raise of $14 a week. It's silly to think that a 3% raise will be the difference in survival of this county.
Power_Company
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November 29, 2012
In this economy, I'd rather see a bonus than a pay raise.

At least that is what I see at my work place because pay raises are very permanent and the economy is very volatile.
come on Joe
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November 29, 2012
How is it they city of Marietta can give a raise to employees while pulling funds from Marietta Power and the paper barely gives a notice but when the county touches water funds or gives raises to employees the editorial page goes nuts? Double standard at its best. You should be ashamed Mr. Kirby!
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