Despite the opposition of several residents, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday night to give the county's more than 4,000 employees a 3 percent across-the-board pay increase effective Dec. 9.
These employees, Chairman Tim Lee said, are on the front line providing services to the county's residents.
"We don't make widgets," Lee said. "We don't buy things. We don't sell things. We provide services."
It's been five years since county employees have seen pay increases, and last year they were required to take five furlough days. But, because of higher than anticipated revenues and approximately $10 million in savings county-wide, Lee said it's possible to give the increase now.
"We feel it is sustainable and do-able at this time," he said.
While two economists consulted in the last several days have said the economy is moving forward, Lee said that, should revenues not be as high as projected for fiscal year 2014, other cuts, such as furlough days and reduced hours at county-run businesses, would balance out the pay increase.
"We don't anticipate that happening," Lee said. "We budget and forecast very conservatively."
Commissioner Bob Ott cast the dissenting vote, stating that it's more prudent to give a bonus now rather than a raise with what he said is a one-time savings.
"We dont know what will available in the future," he said.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said that, while she initially supported giving bonuses to employees, she now believes that pay increases send a stronger message of support to employees.
"We want to keep them here," she said.
Bill Moll, a former Cobb County employee who now represents the Fraternal Order of Police, was the only resident in attendance who spoke in favor of the pay increases, which said will raise morale in all county departments, including the police department.
"I think it will do a lot," Moll said. "It will help us keep more officers in Cobb County. It will help us keep our employees here rather than leaving us to go to other agencies."
Three other residents spoke against the proposal, including Craig Harfoot, who ran against Lee in the Nov. 6 general election as a write-in candidate. Harfoot said that he does understand the need for county employees to receive an increase in pay due to inflation.
"Guess what?" he said. "The rest of us do, too."
In a related matter, the board unanimously approved extra revenues from fiscal year 2012 and the appropriation of reserve funds into the fiscal year 2013 budget.
Lee said that several factors led to the surplus, including increased revenues, expenses controlled more strongly, and increased revenues in the development and real estate industries as well as in business activity. In addition, the county had set aside $6 million for unforeseen costs that did not occur and there was $10 million in departmental savings.
"They wanted to ensure we got to this point and that we (had) a positive surplus," Lee said. "It was unexpected revenue and unexpected savings."