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PROGRESS: Paychecks show promise of economy's improvement in Gwinnett

Gwinnett County paychecks have been evident of the tight times of the Great Recession.

This year, though, county employees have rejoiced at the first raise in pay in five years, a sign that the Gwinnett’s decline in revenues is taking a turn.

“We haven’t had (a pay increase) in five years, and things have gone up so much, groceries and gas,” said Sharon Wilkerson, who works in the tax assessor’s office and applauded commissioners when they approved the raise earlier this year. “I think we all deserve it.”

The funding comes from an expected increase in property taxes, which comes after years of seeing revenues decline along with declining property values. Officials expect a turnaround in 2014, with about a 2 percent increase expected in the county tax digest.

Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said the county staff polled nearby counties and private companies and found similar situations, with raises coming to employees.

Salaries had become an issue for the government, as some of the 4,800-person labor force began to leave for higher paying jobs. The issue had caused Police Chief Charlie Walters and other officials to worry about hiring and retaining quality employees.

“We think this was very important,” Nash said when she proposed the raises late last year. “It is a recognition of the fact that they have worked very hard over those years (without raises).”

Commissioner Lynette Howard agreed that the long-awaited raises are well-deserved.

“The citizens have great county employees working for them,” she said, after approving the budget in January. “The staff is creative and innovative. They can develop better systems using less resource while still setting the highest standards in their industries.”

School teachers in the area are still awaiting word of an increase in salary, although the state’s ability to increase funding has lead to a cut in furlough days, which helps with paychecks.

Jason Delaney, an assistant professor of economics at Georgia Gwinnett College said that overall wages are still in the decline, but that is because older people are once again able to make decisions about retirement, which is freeing up jobs for younger workers. Those workers are starting at lower salaries than those retiring, but that is leaving room for more wage hikes.

“That will start to happen more and more,” he said of raises, which were forgotten in an economy of tight budgets and layoffs.

“That’s great news,” he said of Gwinnett’s pay increases.