Separately, county Chairman Tim Lee has proposed across-the-board raises of 3 percent for all county employees, using $4.5 million in excess funds from the county’s medical and dental account. That proposal will also be considered Tuesday night, and if approved, employees could see larger paychecks by Dec. 27.
The county has 4,182 full-time and 782 part-time employees.
But the raises could morph into a one-time bonus, as all four district commissioners questioned the county’s ability to sustain an across-the-board raise.
Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell both said they prefer a bonus, and Commissioner Woody Thompson said he’s leaning that way, too.
“I very much want to give something to the employees, but my concern with a pay raise is that it obligates the county to the future expense,” said Ott, who represents southeast Cobb. “But this is not ‘to give, or not to give.’ Everybody knows what the employees have been through in the last five years.”
Birrell, who represents northeast Cobb, said she’d like to give a one-time, 3 percent bonus to employees before Christmas.
“This is one-time money we found through savings,” she said. “We don’t know what next year is going to hold. … I just don’t think we can incorporate the money as a pay increase without knowing we’re going to be OK.”
Thompson, who represents southwest Cobb, said he’s favoring the bonus, though he had not yet reviewed a printout Lee provided.
“My feeling is that we’ll do it as a bonus because we’re not sure what’s going to happen in the future,” Thompson said.
Commissioner Helen Goreham, of northwest Cobb, said she hasn’t made up her mind on whether the money should be a raise or a bonus.
“I want to be positive this is sustainable in the future,” she said. “That’s my main concern.”
But employees deserve something, she said, since “they’re the main reason we’re in such good shape.”
Chairman Lee, though, believes raises are “very much sustainable.”
“A bonus also doesn’t address morale concerns, because it’s not seen as a long-term commitment of where the county is going,” he said.
The $17.9 million budget surplus, meanwhile, is a result of increased revenue from development, business and real estate fees, as well as veterinary-service income from the animal shelter, coupled with reduced spending by county agencies, and $5.2 million in unused contingency funds in 2012, Lee said.
The county’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.
This is Lee’s proposal for what to do with the surplus: reduce the property tax rate by 0.2 mills for fiscal 2013 ($4.7 million); upgrade technology infrastructure in courts ($3.2 million); pay off debt for Powder Springs Station ($2.8 million); contingency planning ($2.7 million); accountable and capital equipment ($1.5 million); update police fleet ($1 million); replacement tower for McCollum airport ($1.3 million); storage of archeological items found during county construction ($62,000); solid waste post-closure study of landfills ($50,000) and solid waste methane gas issue at closed landfills ($250,000).
The property tax reduction, for now, would merely subtract that amount from the county’s revenue projections for fiscal 2013, because commissioners cannot set the property tax rate until the end of the fiscal year. Lee also has proposed rolling back the general-fund millage rate over the next five years to return it to the same level, a total of 9.6 mills, before the 2011 increase was approved.
The rollback would only affect the general-fund millage, which is now at 7.72 mills, and if commissioners approve, would be reduced to 7.52 mills.
The county also collects separate property taxes for the fire fund (3.06 mills) and for debt service (0.33 mills). With those included, the county’s total millage is now at 11.11 mills, but would go to 10.91 mills if the commissioners approve the rollback.
A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
Lee also insisted the 2011 increase was essential at the time.
“When the millage (increase) was done, it was absolutely necessary to balance the 2011 budget,” Lee said. “When we developed a 2012 budget, we anticipated a worse year than actually occurred, from a revenue perspective.”
He credited fiscal management, conservative budgeting, and “4,000-plus employees busting their butts to still provide the best services the Cobb way” for the county’s improved bottom line.
“As a result, we have a surplus. That’s why also I can begin to roll back the millage,” Lee said. “I can’t roll the entire thing back because it’s unsustainable all at once. But if things continue to improve, I would be able to accelerate that rollback, instead of the five-year plan.”