MARIETTA — Cobb residents’ remarks Tuesday on the county’s proposed 2020 budget ranged from praise for some included expenses to disagreements over certain spending areas, and even criticism to spending that had been cut from the budget.
Drawing perhaps the most comments surrounding the nearly $1 billion 2020 fiscal budget was its proposed $12.7 million to provide a 7% merit pay increase for certified and sworn law enforcement employees; non-certified and non-sworn employees in the county, meanwhile, would get a 4% merit increase under the proposed budget.
“This whole thing about the raises, I love to have raises, I’m not opposed to having raises, but just one chunk at 7 percent? Nobody does that just like that,” said Pamela Reardon, a 20-year resident of east Cobb, who also went on to criticize the additional spending in the budget during her time in a public hearing on the 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.
“If we give government more money, they always spend the money,” Reardon said.
Alicia Adams, a homeowner in northwest Cobb with a background in human resources, said in her research of average annual salary increases in the United States for the last three years, no year saw any increases at the level of that proposed for county employees.
In the last three years, it’s been anywhere from 2.9 to 3.1%, and here we are, offering a 4% increase across the board, and we’re offering a 7% increase for those who are in sworn positions. That is an incredible excess compared to what the national average is,” Adams said.
“I know you may be saying, ‘Well, they didn’t get an increase in a while.’ But the big question is they still get the long-term funding of a pension, so that’s a huge benefit.”
But Ray Thomas of Mableton, who also serves on the Mableton Improvement Coalition, called Adams’ comparison “erroneous at best.” He alluded to public safety salary comparisons between Cobb and other metro governments by saying the proposed 7% in Cobb would be a much higher pay boost in other jurisdictions.
“Public safety needs a boost. The 4% to 7% is quite frankly something I support,” Thomas said. “Particularly in my area, we definitely need more police officers, more presence on the street, particularly in District 4.”
Also speaking on the budget was state Rep. Mary Frances Williams, D-Marietta, whose focus was on its elimination of an annual $850,000 in funding given to Cobb nonprofits.
“I understand how tough the budget project is, and it’s also a blueprint for our county’s priorities,” Williams said, citing the efforts of three out of 16 nonprofits that received funding in the current fiscal year. The three she mentioned, she said, focus on matters such as assisting individuals in recovery from drug addiction and keeping families from becoming homeless.
“When you bring someone out of homelessness, which more than one of these organizations does, you actually bring people into economic self-sufficiency, and that turns them into taxpayers,” Williams said, adding that by her calculations, $850,000 in funding for nonprofits would amount to 0.0019% of the budget.
“(The nonprofits) contributed directly and indirectly to our local and state economy,” Williams added. “They take in dollars, they spend dollars, they have staff. Government funds provide seed money that allows nonprofits to pull down matching funds.”
The public hearing on the budget took part during commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday morning, and two more hearings are set to be held prior to a vote on the budget.
Both remaining hearings will be held in the Board of Commissioners meeting room at 100 Cherokee St., and will be at 6:30 p.m. July 16 and 7 p.m. July 23.
INVESTIGATOR BONUSES TABLED
During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners had been scheduled to consider a one-time, merit-based payment for investigators working for District Attorney Joyette Holmes and Solicitor General Barry Morgan.
But Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce announced during the meeting that the measure was being held from consideration and would be brought back for a vote at the commission’s next meeting, which is set for 7 p.m. July 23.
“The discussion (will be) ‘Are we going to add (these investigators) to the certified officers we’re already giving the one-time retention payment plus the merit raises?’” Boyce said.
Holmes and Morgan had requested a one-time $1,475 payment for each of the 28 sworn investigators in their two departments — 22 in Holmes’ office and six in Morgan’s. Their ask came in the wake of the commission’s May 28 approval of the merit-based payments for Cobb police and sheriff’s deputies in an effort to address claims of lagging public safety pay compared to other metro Atlanta governments.
Giving the same payments to the 28 investigators could cost the county $41,300 out of its general fund. But debate on the matter was raised Monday by Commissioners Keli Gambrill and Lisa Cupid.
With Cupid and Gambrill indicating opposition to the matter, its approval Tuesday was not likely due to Commissioner Bob Ott’s absence as two opposing votes would at best result in a 2-2 tie; a majority approval is needed to enact a measure.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell told the MDJ after the commission’s Monday afternoon work session that she was in support of granting the payments to the two offices’ investigators.
“They are sworn and certified officers, and they’re investigators and they’re out there working criminal cases, drug cases, things like that to prepare the DA’s office, the solicitor general’s office. They are law enforcement, and that’s, to me, what we were intending for the retention bonus,” Birrell said.
Commissioners also did not vote on a resolution to submit several projects related to the county’s CobbLinc bus service to the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority. Cobb is a member county of the authority, also known as the ATL, that was created under House Bill 930 signed last year by then-Gov. Nathan Deal.
Tabling of the measure had been announced by Boyce on Monday.
The county, as one of the 13 metro member counties in the transit authority, have a July 31 deadline to submit projects for the ATL’s inaugural Regional Transit Plan. In order to be eligible for future state and federal funds, projects must be in the transit plan, which will be updated annually.
On Monday, commissioners expressed reservations about the resolution, which sought to put several facilities into consideration — a new CobbLinc transfer center for the south Cobb area and new transfer centers to replace the existing ones in Marietta and Cumberland.