LAWRENCEVILLE -- In Gwinnett's 2013 budget, police department officials are hoping to add an intersection to its red-light camera program, a truck for code enforcement and another specialist in emergency management.
But the big need, Chief Charlie Walters told budget reviewers Thursday, is for a boost in pay to keep cops on the street.
Walters said the department is losing many of its young officers to the start-up police agencies in new cities, which promise higher salaries.
So far this year, a majority of the 33 officers who have resigned did it for money, he said, acknowledging that the upstart cities are openly targeting the county force because of its training.
"It's telling, when they are going to small agencies where they don't have the career opportunitities," Walters said. "The fact is, they've got to pay the bills."
Walters told the group, which included Chairwoman Charlotte Nash and six citizens picked to review the requests, that it takes 8.5 months to a year for a new recruit to be trained, costing $33,000 to $46,000 in salary costs alone to replace each out-going officer.
Like many businesses and other organizations during the recent economic crunch, Gwinnett County has not given its employees a raise since 2009.
While Walters said a 33 percent increase in the murder rate so far for 2012 likely could not have been avoided, since most are domestic or drug-related, he said a troubling 7.36 percent increase in robberies could likely be attributed to the police department's vacancy rate. In order to field all the 911 calls, he said, the county's crime suppression unit was disbanded.
In addition to filling the slots created by attrition, he told officials he would like to fill 25 officer vacancies the department had agreed to leave vacant in recent years to save money.
Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said the department's findings could help in retaining staffers in other departments, as Fire Chief Bill Myers mentioned a similar issue. She talked about studying the possibility of increasing salaries while possibly decreasing other benefits, since younger workers seems more interested in that perk.
"I understand, when you are barely scraping by with trying to buy groceries," she said, pointing out that a younger generation is less likely to stay with one job over an entire career. "This is a problem we are going to face across the whole organization in terms of loyalty."
Unlike previous years, the police department's 2013 budget will be broken out over several funds.
While some money is expected to be set aside in the county general fund and the traditional funding from telephone charges for 911 and a small amount of grants from forfeited drug funds, the majority of the police funding will come from a special tax district commissioners agreed to in a settlement of a service delivery dispute with cities.
The district, which will encompass all unincorporated portions of Gwinnett and the six cities that do not have their own police forces, could bring in $90 million of the $115 million, Walters said, adding that the county must be careful next year when assigning a millage rate to the tax fund for the first time.
A small portion of funding from a development district, which will encompass on the unincoporated portions of Gwinnett, is expected to be devoted to the department's code enforcement unit.