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Newton board delays budget approval to find cuts to offset pay increase
County manager asks for more time to show ways to preserve raises he says are needed to compete in labor market
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton commissioners will see a new version of the proposed 2022 budget after the county manager asked for a month's delay Tuesday to make enough cuts to preserve across-the-board pay increases.

The Board of Commissioners approved scheduling a first public hearing on a revised budget for July 20 at 6 p.m. and will set a date and time for a final public hearing and adoption of the budget later.

The pay increases recommended by County Manager Lloyd Kerr are step increases in the county’s salary grade plan that average 4.5%. 

They will be needed to recruit and retain employees in the current tight labor market in metro Atlanta, he said.

“Everybody’s competing for help,” Kerr said.

About 694 employees on the step plan — including those in departments headed by constitutional officers — would receive the increases, finance officials said. 

The 2022 spending plan totals $78.1 million in the General Fund. It is slightly larger than the 2021 budget and includes 32 new full-time positions — half of which will not be hired until Jan. 1 to staff a new fire station.

Newton County Board of Commissioners members Tuesday indicated they wanted to approve a property tax rate lower than the current rate in an effort to offset higher property assessments residents received this year.

As a result, commissioners will have less revenue to fund the budget that also included the pay increases.

Kerr asked if board members on Tuesday could postpone the budget’s final approval until he could propose ways to cut enough in other areas to produce the $1.1 million to $1.4 million needed to maintain increases between 3.5% and 4.5%.

He said a pay increase for all positions was needed in such departments as Public Works where some jobs have a starting pay as low as $11 an hour. An equivalent private sector position is paying about $13 an hour, Kerr said.

Kerr said he began working in 2018 on plans to increase pay for county workers after finding Newton County government was paying an average of 20% less than other area public and private sector employers.

Commissioner Stan Edwards asked Kerr why the proposed Newton County increase exceeded increases planned by other entities such as the federal government, for which a planned 2.7% increase had reportedly been considered.

Kerr said he believed the federal government was able to offer less than the county because it typically still offers such incentives as a pension plan. 

Most local governments stopped offering pension plans after they found they could not afford their rapidly escalating costs.

Newton County offers a 401K plan to its 730 employees after abandoning its own pension plan in the 1990s, Kerr said. 

Kerr said he was not ready to recommend specific areas to cut and would “really need to dive into the budget” to see “where we are on some things and to see how many dollars we could generate.”

“It may take one or two things, it may take half a dozen things,” he said.

The Board of Commissioners also voted Tuesday to approve a resolution to continue using 2021 budget funds in the 2022 budget year because it will not have approved a new budget by the start of the fiscal year July 1.