Proposal: County employees could get first raise in 5 years

For the first time in five years, county employees could see a pay raise in 2014, officials announced during a budget presentation Tuesday.

With an expected increase in the county’s property tax digest for the first time in years, Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash prepared the budget with some of commissioners’ top goals in mind, she said.

That includes the long-awaited pay raises — a proposed 3 percent across the board to about 4,800 county staffers — to help with employee morale. And with the aim of increasing public trust after years of public scandal, $250,000 was set aside for outreach to residents, including a proposed Gwinnett Citizens Academy.

“We struck a balance with it looked like our competitors would do and with what we thought we could afford,” Nash said of the 3 percent proposal, adding that county staff polled nearby counties as well as private companies and found similar sentiments about pay raises. After years without, Police Chief Charlie Walters and other officials have said it has become difficult to hire and retain quality staffers. “We think this was very important. … It is a recognition of the fact that they have worked very hard over those years (without raises).”

The county also plans to absorb about a $3.9 million increase expected in health care costs — more than half of which can be attributed to the Affordable Care Act — without increasing the cost to employees.

At about $1.5 billion, the spending plan’s total amount is about the same as 2013, thanks in part to the passage of a 2014 SPLOST earlier this month, while operating expenditures are going down and the capital program is going up.

According to Finance Director Maria Woods, officials had prepared a second document in case voters rejected the sales tax, because the county would still need to be prepared to fund about $20 million in equipment and about $6 million in road resurfacing each year without those revenues.

With an expected increase in property tax revenues of about $6 million, due to the expected 2.4 percent increase in property tax values across Gwinnett, officials found room to add two new ambulance crews to the fire department and to add court officials to help with Juvenile Justice reform. The district attorney’s request for a investigative legal coordinator to aid in the increased use of wire taps to solve crimes was also recommended for approval.

For the library system, which has faced $3.8 million in cuts over the last several years, Nash proposed returning $250,000 of the $1 million cut in 2013, but the money will be placed in a reserve account until commissioners and library board members can reach an agreement on how to spend the money.

“We are very pleased,” Nash said of the increase expected in property values. “It gives us a lot of hope.”