Commissioners also took steps to reduce the property tax rate by 0.2 mills and kill a proposed January water rate fee increase.
Commissioners approved the across-the-board, 3 percent pay hike, which amounts to $4.5 million, in a 4-1 vote with Bob Ott opposed. The money comes from the county’s medical and dental account.
Ott argued the money should be given in the form of a one-time bonus rather than a pay raise that the county is obligated to maintain.
“We don’t know what funds will be available in the future,” Ott said. “Yes, there are some economic indicators that show recovery. However, in light of upcoming changes to the tax laws and health care, the county needs to ensure those indicators remain strong before committing to a permanent change in the salary structure.”
Lee said he had been assured by “leading economists” that such a pay raise was sustainable.
“They don’t believe that it will have any effect on the Cobb County operations and our ability to meet our projections,” Lee said. “It is my belief that we have a sustainable budget for the next five years to be able to absorb this as part of the operating (budget). Moreover, though, I will make a commitment that if we get to the end of the fiscal period and there’s issues concerning the FY14 budget that perhaps makes it difficult to keep it funded, I will make the necessary cuts, and I will make the necessary reductions in services and positions to enable us to continue to move forward without any kind of revenue enhancement.”
Lee said the raise would be funded for fiscal year 2013 out of the medical and dental fund and then as part of the county’s operating budget after that.
In separate action, commissioners voted 5-0 to allocate about $18 million left over from fiscal year 2012.
“You’ve got to recognize this is for the FY12 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30 of this year, so here we are in December having gotten our final reports in terms of what happened budgetarily,” Lee said. “This budget was presented to the Board of Commissioners for approval in September of 2011.”
Lee said the county received unexpected revenue while it maintained expenses at a stronger level than anticipated.
The $18 million will go to pay for needed capital improvements, Lee said.
“This is a surplus that did not happen because of millage rates or anything to that nature,” Lee said. “In fact, we’re rolling back the millage 0.2 mills because that is sustainable. And a five-year plan we put together calls for 0.2 millage reduction this year, next year, the year after that, the year after that, and 0.1 in the fifth year rolled back to a 0.9 mill increase we had to go through in 2011. If things improve better than we had projected, we’ll accelerate that reduction.”
A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
The $18 million will be divided up this way: 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).
Commissioners also changed the annual water system transfer to avoid forcing a rate hike on residents.
“We are reducing the amount of the transfer from the water system by $3.4 million to enable the water system to absorb the projected water rate increases that were proposed earlier this month, meaning that no water rate increases will occur in January as a result of the strength of this year’s digest,” Lee said.