Cobb’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The county’s general fund is projected to increase by about 4.4 percent in the next fiscal year, and county officials plan to use the increase in funds to give employees up to a 3 percent, merit-based raise, create 35 new full-time positions, restore 17 previously eliminated positions and reduce the amount of funds transferred from the county’s water system by about $1.1 million.
Before commissioners can approve the budget, however, the county must hold a public hearing to receive input from citizens on the budget. The hearing is set for Aug. 19 at 8 a.m. and Commissioners will vote to approve the budget Aug. 26.
“Overall, I think … we have a very sustainable, very doable balanced budget that is conservative in nature, but very comprehensive in being able to take care of our responsibilities we anticipate,” said Tim Lee, Board of Commissioners chairman.
Ott: Water rate transfer still a problem
One member of the board said it didn’t go far enough, however.
Commissioner Bob Ott said he would like to see the controversial transfer of funds collected by the county’s water system eliminated, a practice that began in 1998.
According to Bill Volckmann, associate comptroller for the county, the county transferred $15.5 million to the general fund from the water system in the 2014 fiscal year. The county plans to transfer $14.4 million in fiscal 2015, a decrease of about 7 percent.
Ott said he’d like to see the water transfer reduced at a faster rate and eventually stopped altogether, a position he says he’s held since he took office.
“I’m not sure that I’ve voted for a budget since I’ve been there, mainly because of the water transfer,” Ott said.
Lee said he’s open to continuing to reduce the water transfer, but only if the county decides how to account for the money elsewhere.
“My opinion is we’re treating reoccurring costs with one-time revenue, and that’s not a preferred, sound, sustainable policy. And we should be looking at it differently,” Lee said.
Ott was also critical of the budget’s funding of public safety. Last week, Cobb officials released a plan containing suggestions for how to improve the Cobb County Police Department. Although the fiscal 2015 budget contains proposals listed in the plan, including additional police training academies and increased pay for evening and overnight shifts, some proposals will not be implemented until the fiscal 2016 budget is adopted.
“I would like to see more of the plan for the police implemented sooner,” Ott said. “My concern is that it’s kind of stretched out. I’m supportive of what’s in there for the police, but I think we should have more, sooner.
“To me, it makes more sense to keep the officers that we have,” he added.
According to Jim Pehrson, director of finances for the county, the Cobb County Police department had 699 positions funded by the fiscal 2014 budget — 64 of which were vacant as of June 24. The fiscal 2015 budget funds three additional police captains to bring the total to 702.
The total county budget is proposed to be about $763 million in fiscal 2015, compared to $743 million in fiscal 2014 — an increase of about $20 million, or about 2.8 percent.
The county expects the general fund to increase from about $325 million in the current fiscal year to about $340 million in fiscal 2015.
“The majority of that increase is going come from our property tax section of our revenues. And that’s going to be through digest growth,” said Volckmann.
Because the total value of taxable property in the county — the digest — increased, the county will receive an increase in tax revenue without raising the property tax rate. The budget assumes the county will keep the millage rate at its current level, 7.32 mills, during the next fiscal year. Volckmann said the commissioners can vote to change the millage rate in June or July 2015.
“Even though we’re using that methodology now, if revenues or something were to come in and improve, that could be something they would revisit at that time,” he said.
Commissioners have voted to lower the millage rate in each of the last two years after raising it by 0.9 mills to 7.72 mills in 2012. The millage rate was lowered to 7.52 mills in 2013 and to 7.32 mills July 22.
Increased revenue will also allow the county to give its employees a merit-based raise of up to three percent over the course of the fiscal year.
“It is not a three percent (raise) across the board. It would be based on performance. So you could get up to three percent … or potentially, you could get zero,” Volckmann said.
Lee said the county gave raises in the same manner in January.
According to AikWah Leow, public information officer for the county, 3,872 of the county’s 4,514 full-time employees — about 86 percent — received a raise of some kind since January.
Additionally, the county is adding 35 new full-time positions, including a new criminal investigator for the district attorney’s office, an additional sign fabrication technician for the department of transportation and an animal cruelty investigator.
The county also plans to hire two additional fire inspectors and four more construction inspectors, which Lee said is a result of increased construction activity.
“That’s in response to the number of permits we’re being asked to work with,” he said.