MARIETTA — The county’s finances have been approved for the next fiscal year and its police department will see an increase of about $3.1 million in funding to help with officer retention.
The Cobb Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to adopt the fiscal 2015 budget at their meeting Tuesday night.
The budget does not call for an increase in taxes, does not cut any county services and reduces the amount of water transferred from the county’s water system to the county’s general fund by about $1.1 million.
Additionally, the budget estimates an increase in the county’s general fund by about 4.4 percent. The county plans to use a portion of the increased funds to give its employees a merit-based raise of up to 3 percent and create 35 new full-time positions.
The county expects the general fund to increase from about $325 million in the current fiscal year to about $340 million in fiscal 2015.
During the meeting, County Chairman Tim Lee said the budget supports the county’s staff and helps them respond to the needs of the community.
“Most importantly, there’s not a thing, there’s not a penny in this budget that doesn’t go to the execution of providing services and benefits to the citizens of Cobb County and the millions of visitors that come here each year,” he said.
During the meeting, Commissioner Bob Ott said he had two issues with the budget: the water transfer and funding for public safety. Ott said while he appreciates the efforts to reduce the amount of money transferred from the water system, which decreases from $15.5 million in fiscal 2014 to $14.4 million in fiscal 2015, he “would prefer to see it reduced at a quicker rate.”
The transfer from the county’s water system to its general fund, a practice which began in 1998, is used to help the county balance its budget. Critics say the transfer decreases the funds available for the water system, which in turn may cause commissioners to raise water rates.
Ott said his primary concern was public safety funding, however, and he said he would like to see more done to address the department’s issues sooner. “We talked about them being the number one priority, and I just think they need to receive more of our attention than they have so far. Retention has been stated as a major issue, especially in the police department.”
The east Cobb commissioner said he would encourage the department to give officers a retention bonus and hazard pay for more officers. Despite his concerns, Ott still voted to approve the budget.
“I voted yes because I wanted to make sure the men and women of public safety know that I support what they do and that I really do want to make things better. I do not think, as a board, we did enough,” Ott said.
Cobb Director of Public Safety Sam Heaton said when he was working on the county’s police improvement plan, which was unveiled on Aug. 6, he wanted the police improvement plan to be sustainable.
“My reasoning is ... we’re looking at a plan that’s going to go longterm and be sustainable. I understand, you know, a short term bonus or something of that sort would be great for any employee. But at the same time, that would be gone by Christmas, where what we’re putting together is going to be much more sustainable, in my opinion,” he said.
Portions of the police improvement plan released by the county on Aug. 6 are included in the newly adopted budget, including additional police vehicles and higher pay for overnight shifts.
The plan calls for the county’s police department to be fully staffed with personnel, vehicles and equipment by Jan. 1, 2017, which will require hiring 232 new officers.
Heaton said portions of the plan have already been implemented and financed by money in the fiscal 2014 budget, including funding for 40 new positions in the county’s police department and purchasing 55 new police vehicles.
He said he is glad to see more of the plan put in motion. “I’m excited that we’re able to move forward with some of these things. I think it’s going to have a positive impact across the board on all public safety,” he said.
Heaton said the fiscal 2015 budget will provide funds to increase the number of police academies the department offers each year from two to four and to purchase 37 new police vehicles. Additionally, employees of the county’s police department, sheriff’s office, emergency 911 centers and animal control department will now qualify for shift differential pay, meaning they will be paid at a higher rate for working the evening and midnight shifts, Heaton said.
These public safety employees will receive an additional $0.50 per hour for evening shifts and $1 per hour for midnight shifts, according to the county’s police improvement plan.
The plan calls for $1.3 million from the fiscal 2015 budget to cover the cost of the shift differential pay.
The fiscal 2015 budget includes nine new public safety positions, Heaton said, including three police captains, a fire captain, two fire marshal inspectors, an animal cruelty investigator, a crime analysis coordinator and a senior crime scene technician.
Additionally, the budget will provide funding for Cobb Police Precinct 3, the southeastern portion of the county, to move to 10-hour shifts, four days a week, around May 2015, Heaton said, as opposed to the current eight-hour shifts. Precinct 2, in south Cobb, already has its officers on 10-hour shifts, he added.
Heaton said the police improvement plan calls for all five precincts to move to 10-hour shifts by the end of 2016.