MARIETTA — Ahead of county residents’ first chance to publicly weigh in on the matter, Cobb commissioners were presented Monday with the latest version of the county’s proposed nearly $1 billion 2020 fiscal budget.

The proposed budget, as officially presented to commissioners by Finance Director Bill Volckmann during a work session Monday afternoon, totals $998.9 million — a 3.4% increase over the fiscal 2019 adopted budget of $966.1 million.

Its general fund, which serves as the primary operating fund of the county, is being proposed at $475.7 million — an increase of about 4.7% from the 2019’s adopted budget of $454.2 million.

The general fund’s largest source of revenue is property taxes, with the rising tax digest helping to account for the county’s budgeted haul of $302.8 million — about $18.1 million or nearly 6.4% higher than the same line item in the 2019 fiscal budget.

Property tax revenues are based on Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce’s desire to keep the general fund millage at its current 8.46-mill rate, which will bring the county increased revenue due to the county’s growing tax digest. Because the rate exceeds the “rollback” millage rate, or the tax rate the county would have to levy in order to collect the same amount of revenue as it did the previous year, the county is required to hold three hearings to allow the public a chance to weigh in on the issue.

As proposed, the budget would add 20 new full-time positions to the county’s full-time workforce of approximately 4,401, according to county spokesperson Ross Cavitt. The general fund would pay for 12 of those new positions, with one funded by the emergency 911 fund and the remaining seven through the water fund.

The budget also includes about $12.7 million to provide a 7% merit pay increase for certified and sworn law enforcement employees, with a 4% merit increase for non-certified and non-sworn employees in the county.

“I think with the increase for the public safety officers and sheriff’s deputies, that’s a big part of our budget, and we’ve been saying public safety is our no. 1 priority, and now we’re putting our money where our mouth is and showing it,” Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said after Monday afternoon’s meeting. “I think the 7% increase for them will get us on the right track for retention and recruitment and give us time to look at a step and grade for next year.”

A step and grade system, as proposed for public safety personnel, would group employees with equal years of service within a grade into pay classes, creating a system where such employees could accurately determine both current and future wages.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the proposed budget and millage rate at their July 23 meeting. Before that occurs, the public will have three opportunities to share their thoughts on the proposals during public hearings in front of commissioners. The first is Tuesday during the commissioners’ 9 a.m. meeting in the Cobb Government Building.

While Commissioner Lisa Cupid did not provide an overall assessment of the budget as presented after Monday’s meeting, she said she was “looking forward” to public input and any possible changes proposed by county staff.

“There are some persons that understand that in order to invest back in your county, you need to be able to retain some of the return that we’ve received from our growth, and there are some that just don’t want to see any change in any amount of revenue that the county gets — I think that’s a continuing argument made, and our goal is to make sure we provide the best level of services with the resources that we have on hand that are reasonable and efficient,” Cupid said. “Every year we balance that, and hopefully we’ll come out with the best decision, and I’m sure the public will hold us to that.”

All three public hearings will be held in the Board of Commissioners meeting room at 100 Cherokee St., and will be at 9 a.m. Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. July 16 and 7 p.m. July 23.

Follow Jon Gargis on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JonGargis.

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