The Gwinnett County Police Department and Sheriff’s Office are gaining dozens of new positions and county employees across all departments could see their salaries increase by as much as 7 percent under the county’s proposed 2019 budget.
The $1.8 billion budget proposal was presented to county commissioners, and two incoming commissioners, at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center on Tuesday. It includes several new positions, most of which are in public safety, but it also continues a 4 percent pay for performance increase. A mid-year 3 percent market adjustment is also included.
“It is a good sign that we are able to address many of the issues that are addressed in this budget,” said commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who contrasted the 2019 budget with budgets from the economic downturn at the beginning of the decade.
“We know the need for additional public safety personnel is a continuous one. We weren’t able to do what we needed to do in those areas during the (Great Recession). It’s a good thing to be able to be at the point where we’re able to address those needs.”
A public hearing for the budget proposal is scheduled for Dec. 10, and the Board of Commissioners is set to vote on adoption of the budget at its Jan.3 meeting, according to a schedule released by the county.
As Nash had told the Daily Post before Thanksgiving, public safety was a major factor in the proposed budget. The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, in particular, looks to have made major gains this year with the budget proposal including 41 new positions for the office.
Chief Deputy Lou Solis said, by comparison, the Sheriff’s Office had gained a total of 10 positions over the last five budget years.
“This year, the sheriff wanted to make sure we did something totally different so we got a team together and the team … participated with the county this year to show them what we really needed,” Solis said.
Nineteen of the positions will be assigned to the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center to staff the expansion wing that is being built. Another 10 positions will be assigned to the county jail, along with three new sergeant positions. The rest will be used for the fugitive squad.
Solis said there has been a growing demand on the fugitive squad which, among other duties, handles warrants issued by the courts on behalf of county, city, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
The squad has also been dealing with a 100 percent increase in warrants for sex offenders, mostly from people convicted of those crimes who are moving into the county.
“We want to make sure that the guys are registered,” Solis said. “The population is increasing with more people moving in, and we want to make sure that when people move in, the sex offenders register. We have a small team that oversees all of that.”
There were also 30 new officer positions created in the Gwinnett County Police Department to help the county reach its goal of having a ration of 1.3 police officers for every 1,000 residents. Chief Butch Ayers said these positions will be spread across the county. He also said the county currently has a ratio of about 1 officer for every 1,000 residents.
The added positions are expected to allow the department, which currently has at least 90 vacancies, to have a ratio of 1.08 officers for every 1,000 residents.
Meanwhile, county officials are projecting Gwinnett’s population will hit 1 million people by 2021.
“This is a good package (and) it’s a good challenge because we have a lot of people to hire,” Ayers said. “We have been running 50-person academies in 2018. That is our goal in 2019 as well and we need to be able to position the police department to be able to provide services to a growing community.”
Gwinnett County Fire Services is expected to add at least six positions including three instructors for the county’s fire academy, two additional fire inspectors and one position to oversee preventative maintenance at the department’s facilities.
Other items in the budget include funding for preliminary engineering on bus rapid transit routes as well as funding for the MARTA referendum which will be held in March.
Nash said the referendum’s cost will be higher than the $500,000 price tag that has been floating around since August, but an exact figure was not immediately available.