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Sheriffs office plan finds support, unsure about funding
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County commissioners voiced support for the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office's proposed plan to raise starting deputy salaries, but funding for that plan is still up in the air.

Commissioner JaNice Van Ness and Commissioner Oz Nesbitt looked at differences in their 2014 budget proposals during Tuesday's work session.

Nesbitt proposed holding the line for most county departments at 2012 and 2013 spending levels and adding about $1 million for the RCSO compensation plan, in addition to the Chairman's proposed $19.2 million for the RCSO.

"I'm not discounting or downsizing any other department and their need, but if they can hold tight, make do with what they have this year, things will change," Nesbitt said.

In order to have a premium public safety response, the county has to put up funding, he said. "There's no way you can have your cake and eat it too without putting more skins in the game. We have to educate our citizens so they'll understand why we are requiring this."

Finance Director Roselyn Miller reviewed changes in Van Ness's proposals, which had originally added $1.09 million for the RCSO compensation plan. "We remove the $1 million out," said Miller of Van Ness's changes. "We're anticipating with salary savings (Sheriff Levett will) still be able to move forward with the plan."

The RCSO is on track to return about $1 million this year to the county's general fund due to savings from positions that were vacant part of the year plus expense savings from a lower than expected jail population. Van Ness said with the savings from this year and anticipated savings from attrition and vacancies next year, the sheriff's office should be able to fund its compensation and incentives plan for 2014.

However, if the plan succeeds in reducing attrition and turnover, the county would still be faced with the increased RCSO cost for 2015.

RCSO Chief Deputy Scott Freeman said to the commissioners, "In reality it needs to be funded in full for the sheriff to move forward with it."

The RCSO had gone back and shaved off about $600,000 in their plan to reduce the cost to about $1.92 million. The revised plan would start a detention deputy at a minimum of $29,973 and a certified sheriff's deputy at a minimum of $34,430.

The revised RCSO plan would put Rockdale's starting deputy salary at 38th out of 58 metro Atlanta law enforcement agencies surveyed in the RCSO's study released earlier this year. The revised plan would create additional internal RCSO rungs within the existing county HR play classifications for road and detention deputies.

"We still achieve the number one goal we set out to do - to make the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office competitive," with the revised compensation plan, said Freeman. But, he added, "If funding does not follow, even though this may pass, how can we make the sheriff's office competitive?"

Other differences include the number of additional battalion chiefs or administrative personnel to the fire department. Both commissioners agree with adding a Chief Code Enforcement officer to the planning and zoning department and reducing the funds for performance and merit incentives for county employees.

Both part time commissioners' proposals reduce Chairman Richard Oden's $59.4 million 2014 budget and potentially identified up to $2.4 million in savings. However, even with those savings, the county would still have to dip into its reserves by about $3.9 million, if property tax rates are kept the same as last year.

That would draw down about 10 percent of the reserves, which is currently about $38.8 million. The BOC recently passed a policy that required the fund balance to be at least 35 percent of its operating budget, which would be $20.7 million in 2013.

According to estimates from the Tax Assessor and Tax Commissioner, the county anticipates a 2 percent decrease in the tax digest, said Miller.

The Board of Commissioners will vote on the budget at their meeting Nov. 26, 10 a.m., at 901 Main Street.