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Nesbitt, Van Ness budget changes reviewed
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The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners held another round of discussions related to the 2015 budget proposal that centered on the amendments made by Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt and Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness.

Rockdale County Finance Director Roselyn Miller read Nesbitt's amendments aloud first during the board's work session Tuesday morning. She said his proposed budget is $1.9 million less than County Chairman Richard Oden's proposed $63.5 million budget, which factors in using $8.9 million in county reserves to be balanced.

About $900,000 of Nesbitt's reduction comes from cuts to the proposed budgets of the clerk of courts, finance, fire, transportation, human resources, juvenile court, library, management information systems, probate court, community relations, planning and development, recreation and maintenance, sheriff office, superior courts I and II and tax commissioner departments.

He also removes the one million set aside for 33 personnel changes, with the exceptions being a position for the E-911 Center, Rockdale Water Resources and the Rockdale Department of Transportation which will fund their new positions without using county money.

Miller states that both commissioners' amendments are similar in the areas with funding being reduced, although Van Ness is still working on the budgets for the board of commissioner's office, Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Council, human resources department and the sheriff's office.

Van Ness also cuts the funding for the personal additions, but adds one employee for code enforcement and recreation and maintenance.

The major difference so far in the amendments is in how current employees will get a salary increase, which has been a major discussion point during these budget talks.

Different plans for salary increases

Since the budget process started, Nesbitt has been clamoring for all county employees, with the sheriff's excluded, to get a five percent increase in salary.

He says that it's time for the commissioners to step up and take action on this issue that hasn't been addressed in years. The impending 23.6 percent increase to employees healthcare cost is also a factor in his wanting the five percent increase effectively immediately in January 2015.

"There health insurance is going up," Nesbitt said. "If we're only going to give our employees a measly two percent increase, where in the world are they going to see the impact in their net income?"

Nesbitt justified his cutting of personnel requests by saying that he can't continue to advocate for employees getting a five percent bump in pay while also condoning hiring more people. His five percent increase will cost the county $980,000.

"I don't see how we can balance our budget and effectively reach our goal by hiring 35 people," he said.

In Van Ness' plan for the salary hike, she proposes a four percent increase in salary for employees, but prefers to use a pay for performance plan, much like the Oden's proposal.

Her plan would cost $810,000.

She also advocated the county come up with a long term solution for doling out pay raises instead of using a temporary fix of a one-time raise now. Nesbit agreed with her position.

"I know that they understand the nature of the beast when you work in government, but if we can come up with a strategy long term, because for us just to go five (percent), two (percent) or nothing, I think is a temporary fix."

Oden initially proposed in his budget an incentive based plan where every county employee will be eligible for a two percent bump in annual pay if they meet or exceed expectations based on their 2014 performance evaluations, which may cover 98 percent of employees.

In addition, Oden's proposal would also have a premium pay plan where employees can earn an additional increase to their salaries up to 15 percent by earning specialized certificates, degrees and diplomas relative to their job position.

Nesbitt says he approves of the incentive plans, which would cost $964,287 altogether, but feels like all employees should get a raise before the plans kick in, which wouldn't be until June 2015.

What if no reserve money is used?

If the county didn't use that $8.9 million from reserves to balance the budget, which Nesbitt and Van Ness strongly oppose doing, another option would be to increase the millage rate, or property tax rate.

Miller says each mill is worth about $1.9 million in revenue. "So that means you would have to increase the millage by 4.5 mills," she says.

That would raise the millage rate of the county to 24.74. In July, the county approved a rollback millage rate of 20.24. Last year, the county increased the millage rate by 3.79 mills.

"It's not rock science to understand that if we go that deep into our reserves, in bringing on 35 people, that's going to create some unbalance somewhere," said Nesbitt. "There has to be a plan to either increase the millage rate (or) raise taxes. I don't see any way mathematically, which is why I'm not supporting hiring all these folks."

Dipping that far into the reserve fund now without knowing how much revenue the county will get from property and sales tax in the future is dangerous should something arise and the county needs that money, Nesbitt added.

"So if we go forward with this now lord forbid something major really happens, and we need those money out of the reserves that we dipped so deeply into we're going to be in, as the kids say, a hot mess," he said.


Should CREDC get more funding?

The only increase Nesbitt and Van Ness made in their amendments was to CREDC.

The county already funds the CREDC jointly with the City of Conyers. Annually, the county pays $125,000. During a budget hearing two weeks ago, CREDC Director Marty Jones requested the county provide an additional $25,000 a year.

Conyers has paid $60,000 but has recently decided to increase its total contribution to $75,000.

Nesbitt, who's stated he believes the county should pay as much as $250,000 to the CREDC, granted Jones' request by proposing giving the CREDC the $25,000 increase.

Van Ness is proposing to give the CREDC $15,000 more annually, but, as previously mentioned, she's still in the process of working on the groups budget.

"Hopefully by next Tuesday, we'll be able to have a true amendment," said Miller.

In Oden's proposal, he refused to give the CREDC any increase. His reasons being because Jones has not provided him with information related to the CREDC's exact return on investment to the county, exact number of jobs created, new business comparison for the county and City of Conyers, an action plan for the CREDC and other financial information dating as far back as six years.

Oden requested this information form Jones in November 2013 and again in August.

During the same budget hearing, Oden gave his response to Jones' request in a manner that was referred to as "embarrassing" by Nesbitt, mainly because Oden's tone towards Jones was "aggressive."

According to the Oden, he and Jones spoke last week Wednesday about the information Oden wants.

As of Tuesday morning, Jones still has not provided the information Oden requested of him and there's no agreed upon timetable for him to either.

Oden also sticks to his grilling of Jones, which caused Nesbitt to apologize to Jones.

"The same way people were grilled today, that's what happened," Oden said after the work session. "It's about accountability."