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Slightly reduced $61.4M budget approved, county employees to see merit pay raises
County Chairman Richard Oden, right, officially proclaimed Dec. 9 as JaNice Van Ness Appreciation Day. Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness received a plaque and a bouquet of flowers for eight years of service as a Rockdale commissioner. - photo by Martin Rand, III/The News

After a month of meetings, budget hearings and debate, the Rockdale Board of Commissioners officially approved a budget for the 2015 year on Tuesday during the board's voting session.

The approved budget for 2015 is $61.4 million, which is $2 million less than County Chairman Richard Oden's originally proposed budget and about $3 million more than the 2014 budget.

The county will use $6.8 million from the general fund to help balance the budget. This will reduce the county's reserves from $34 million to $27 million. Due to a locally approved ordinance, the county's reserves cannot drop below $20 million.

The proposed capital budget of $2.4 million was reduced to $2.2 million. Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness attempted to reduce the budget even further by eliminating $70,000 from $1.07 million allotted for the Rockdale County Fire and Rescue, but both Oden and Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt agreed that the fire department shouldn't be stripped of their capital dollars.

County employees get raise

The version of the budget that passed didn't include the $1.9 million allotment of the initial proposed budget which would have been used to hire new employees and funded salary increases for county employees.

The board instead chose to implement salary incentive plan, which will pay employees a 4 percent increase based on performance evaluations, proposed by Van Ness.

"I think it's critical," said Van Ness of paying employees based on performance. "I think it's' a great tool to use as we move forward."

Van Ness made the motion to approve the amendment, which was then approved by her and Oden. Nesbitt voted against the measure still believing his plan of 5 percent across the board was the best solution.

"At the end of the day we're all saying the same thing in terms of let's give our employees an increase," said Nesbitt. "I say let's give them a large amount and then move forward."

Van Ness claims her plan is a blend of the two salary incentive plans proposed by Oden and Nesbitt.

"I think we have well fashioned plan that achieves the goal of both of you," said Van Ness.

Following the completion of performance evaluations at the end of June 2015, Oden wanted to give employees a 2 percent increase based on those performances while also giving employees an opportunity to receive further raises if the employee earned specialized certificates, degrees and/or diplomas relative to their job position.

Oden supported the Van Ness' plan because it included a pay for performance aspect.

While he supported giving employees a raise based on performance, Nesbitt first wanted to give all employees a 5 percent increase of salaries in January 2015. This plan would have cost $982,682.

Van Ness' plan also called for the hiring of three new employees for the Recreation and Maintenance department at $46,332, Planning and Development in the code enforcement department at $33,023 and a part-time administrator in the Management and Information department at $20,000.

The total plan would cost $909,355 in 2015.

County gets random drug testing

One of the mandates of the new budget is that the Human Resource department begins a program that randomly drug tests its employees.

Van Ness made the adjustment that the department needs to set aside $6,000 of its approved $845,802 to go towards the program.

Oden asked Finance Director Roselyn Miller if a commissioner can mandate what a department does with its money.

"I think we should if it's a legal compliance that the human resources department has not been doing," Van ness answered before Miller could reply.

Human Resources Director Daryl Bowie countered by saying $6,000 would not be enough to meet the federal minimum requirement. The department would need $16,000 to randomly drug test all year, he says.

However, Miller told the board that they didn't need to designate a dollar amount with such a command, but only stipulate that the task gets completed by the department somehow.

"If I know by law I have to do something, (then) I have to do it know matter how much funding I have," said Miller. "If not, I would have to come back before the board to say I cannot do this law that's mandated by the department, and I need more funding.

The proposed 2015 budget for the Human Resources department was cut by about $60,000 in the approved the budget.

Ethics board

In other county business, the board approved a new ethics board ordinance that will replace its current ordinance which was passed into law in 2008, but never initiated.

The new ordinance will have a three-member board with appointments from the Rockdale Bar Association, the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce and the Rockdale Coalition of Homeowners and Civic Associations.