Lee proposes using $4.5 million from the county’s medical and dental account to give employees a 3 percent raise because they haven’t had one in five years. He also wants to use about $18 million left over from fiscal year 2012 for a property tax reduction and to make improvements such as upgrading the court system’s computer network.
Tom Maloy of Powder Springs, a member of the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party, said while his group hasn’t yet discussed the matter, he opposes a pay raise. The $4.5 million should be a one-time bonus, Maloy said.
“When the economy stabilizes, start talking about permanent salary increases, but right now they just don’t have enough evidence that the economy is even going to stabilize at all or recover,” Maloy said.
Better to give a one-time bonus and keep the staff employed rather than a salary hike and have to furlough if the economy slips next year, he said.
“If they give county employees a raise that’s permanent, a permanent raise in 2013, the way I look at it, they will probably be looking at furloughs and layoffs in 2014 or trying to increase property taxes again as they did two years ago,” Maloy said, referring to how Lee raised property taxes by 1.5 mills. “It’s great to make everybody feel good and say everybody is going to get a raise, but if that means that they’re going to be furloughed or laid off in a year, I’m not so sure how good that raise is going to do them.”
Commissioner Bob Ott said the decision should not be framed as whether to give county employees the money.
“This is a matter of what is the most prudent way to recognize the sacrifices and the hard work that they have done,” Ott said.
Ott said it’s premature to obligate the county to fund the pay increase without knowing whether such positive signs as an increase in SPLOST revenue and a lower unemployment rate will be sustained in light of Obamacare and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.
“We have this one time money, we’re going to pay it as a bonus, and then we’re going to watch carefully over the next year exactly how the county finances go in light of all those other things that could easily have a negative effect on the economy,” he said. “If next year we can continue to lower the millage rate and not increase the water rate, and decrease the water transfer then we clearly have a sustainable recovery in place.”
Lee said Ott’s position is an example of Ott not wanting “to commit to anything.”
“Frankly, he sees the glass half-empty and I see it half-full,” Lee said.
Lee said a five-year forecast tells him such a raise is sustainable even if Congress fails to prevent the country from falling off the fiscal cliff.
“If we go off the fiscal cliff that in itself is more directly related to individuals than it is county government because a fiscal cliff is letting tax breaks for individuals and companies expire, so you as an individual will have $2,000 more additional dollars taken from your paycheck next year not the county,” Lee said. “The county won’t be impacted to that extent, but you as an individual, so you’ll be taking home $2,000 less next year as a result of the fiscal cliff. With that in mind, giving them that 3 percent at least offsets that fiscal cliff impact on the individual somewhat.”
Larry Savage of east Cobb, who challenged Lee in the primary election, lacks Lee’s optimism.
“Right now is a time of the greatest uncertainty of all as they head to this fiscal cliff thing and then the pending implementation of Obamacare, you can say that won’t affect the county, but you don’t know that because what we don’t know is what the ultimate fallout in the economy at large will be and when there is fallout in the economy at large we might see the barely developing improvement in the real estate market might collapse, the whole economy might be adversely affected, we just don’t know,” Savage said. “There’s so many unknowns and the opportunity for things to go bad in a heartbeat are unpredictable but many.”
Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy said Lee assured him the raise was sustainable, and he supports Lee’s plan.
“People can live better on a permanent salary than they can on what might not be a bonus,” Dendy said.
As for allocating about $18 million left over from fiscal year 2012, Maloy points out that sum is similar to the amount commissioners transferred from the water system to the general fund to balance their budget earlier this year.
“Why did we borrow $20 million from the water fund when we had that $18 million?” Maloy asked. “Couldn’t we use some of that at least to replace the $20 million that we borrowed from the water fund?”
The $18 million budget surplus 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.
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).
Maloy said the 0.2 mill reduction isn’t much relief.
“I don’t see where that small amount is going to help the property owner that much,” Maloy said. “I would rather see them start backing out or reducing the amount of money they have to take out of the water fund until they reduce it to zero. They’re addicted to it.”
Dendy said a number of the expenses on Lee’s proposal are needed, such as replacing the dated court computer system, and the McCollum tower, which has blind spots.
“So there is money here that needs to be spent,” Dendy said. “I wouldn’t say take the full $18 million and give it back to the water system because I think some of these things are necessary.”