Raises under review
Commissioners seek budget cuts

LAWRENCEVILLE - For several years, Gwinnett officials have worried that low pay could cost them good employees.

So they raised salaries, and vacancies, especially in the police department, began filling.

But this year's proposal to continue boosting salaries - at a time when dwindling revenues have caused for talk of a hike in taxes - has drawn the ire of some residents.

"In this situation, you do not give raises to anyone," David Jones of Lawrenceville said in a meeting Tuesday, where commissioners voted against a proposed millage rate increase.

Because commissioners are directing the county staff to cut expenses instead of raising taxes to balance the current year's budget, Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer said about $10 million to $12 million will have to be cut, since officials already found $40 million in savings and revenue enhancements earlier this year. Every program that has not been implemented will have to be shut down, he said.

Comer said he did not know if that would include the raises, as some employees have already gotten the incentive.

"The employees are picking up their share (of the cost)," Comer said. "I think there are plenty of organizations that are having raises this year. ... It's something we are evaluating. We are looking at everything."

The compensation plan included a regularly scheduled 4 percent increase for public safety personnel working under a step method. Other employees were scheduled to receive a 3 percent lump-sum payment on the anniversary of their employment, plus a 2.25 percent increase to their base salary on July 1, which is based on a rise in the cost of living.

Human Resources Director Kenneth Poe said the pay increases impact the budget by about $8.8 million total, but costs have been cut in other ways, including forcing employees to pay 42 percent more of their health care premium costs.

Poe said the raises were included in the 2009 budget to help employees absorb the premium costs and a cut in longevity pay. Those two initiatives alone will account for a $6.2 million savings in personnel costs and other initiatives are in the works to reduce the payroll and benefit costs by another $7 million.

"We believe that people are our most valuable asset, and our outstanding work force is what sets us apart from other metro Atlanta governments," Poe said. "In order to continue to recruit and retain top talent, it is necessary that we keep our salaries competitive in the marketplace of peer governments."