Jul. 13—MARIETTA — After forgoing raises last year, Cobb County's 2022 budget includes a step increase for public safety employees and a 3% merit raise for county workers.
The budget will also take steps to address longstanding "compression" issues for employee pay, whereby career employees experience diminishing returns in pay compared with new hires.
A sketch of the budget was presented Tuesday to the Board of Commissioners by Bill Volckmann, the county's finance director. Thanks to a healthy 2021 tax digest which grew by over 5%, Volckmann proposed a 4.8% general fund budget increase of nearly $23 million — from $473.8 million to $496.6 million.
About $8 million of that budget growth goes to the restoration of capital investment spending, such as vehicle fleet replacement, which was slashed in 2020 amid fears of a Great Recession-style revenue drop-off. Spending pre-pandemic was around $14 million per year, Volckmann said, and is being restored to $10.2 million from last year's $2.1 million.
Four new full-time positions across the county government will be created by the budget. Three of those — an absentee ballot supervisor, an administrative specialist, and a fiscal technician — will be in the Cobb elections office, which will also get two part-time positions. The county will also hire a diversity, equity and inclusion officer within the county manager's office (with a salary range of $69,000 to $111,000), something Cobb Chairwoman Lisa Cupid spoke about wanting to have during the board's retreat earlier this year.
Several new positions approved earlier this year within the offices of the district attorney and Probate Court will be rolled over into the 2022 budget, Volckmann said.
The bumps in worker compensation come after no raises were approved last year. Cupid has said repeatedly since taking office she wants to address ongoing problems of employee turnover in the government, which is over 15% in 23 county departments.
"It's important for us to send a strong signal to the organization about valuing the human assets of this organization," Cupid said during preliminary budget talks in February.
Police officers, fire fighters, sheriff's deputies, and other public safety workers will be moved up in the step-and-grade program approved in 2020, which determines each worker's salary based on years of service (step) and rank (grade). Commissioners at the time declined to lock in raises each year, but planned to annually approve them barring fiscal catastrophe.
Commissioners followed through on that plan in March, and will make two consecutive years of public safety raises if the budget is approved. The merit raises for employees not in the step-and-grade program, meanwhile, will go to all employees who received a "meets or exceeds" performance review.
Volckmann said the vast majority of the nearly 3,000 county employees covered by the 3% merit raise will be eligible to receive it. Both raises would take effect in March 2022.
No millage rate increase is planned for this year from its rate of 8.46 mills, but rising property valuations will result in an effective tax increase for some homeowners. Commissioners have not publicly discussed a "rollback" of the millage rate, which would lower the rate to a level — 8.03 mills — that keeps county revenues flat.
Commissioners will have two weeks to mull the budget before their July 27 meeting, when both the budget and the millage rate are voted on. A public hearing on both will be held on July 20, at a specially called BOC meeting.
Once approved, the budget will then take effect with the start of the 2022 fiscal year on Oct. 1.