Cobb budget to increase slightly in 2014

Cobb County will dole out raises of up to 3 percent and add five new positions while slightly decreasing property taxes, according to a draft of the 2014 budget released Tuesday.

Georgia’s third-largest county released its $745 million budget plans for the upcoming fiscal year, showing an overall increase of almost 1 percent.

The small growth is notable given that in recent years local governments across metro Atlanta struggled to balance budgets as the Great Recession took a toll on property taxes and other revenues. That’s led to tax increases and spending cuts in Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett and for some Fulton residents.

Cobb’s upcoming budget, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, is buoyed by a rise in building-related fees, a change in the state’s car tax system and cost-cutting measures. The county’s general fund, which is the main operating account, is expected to increase by 1.39 percent to $326 million.

“The county is very well managed. We’ve held cost down and we’ve anticipated the economic impact of the past couple years,” said Jim Pehrson, Cobb’s director of finance.

In 2011, the County Commission approved an increase to the tax rate in order to balance the budget. Last month, they voted to slightly lower the general fund rate, in hopes of reducing it each year for the next five years until it returns to the 2010 levels.

In November, Cobb approved a 3 percent pay raise for county employees. The pay raises irked some watchdog groups, who favored one-time bonuses over permanent increases and want the county to be more aggressive when it comes to lowering the tax rate and evaluating services it provides residents.

“If I was in the position to do the budget, I would have done everything in my power to prevent the (2011) tax increase,” said Lance Lamberton, president of Cobb Taxpayers Association.

This year’s budget accounts for the tax rate decrease and includes the addition of five full-time positions, including two assistant district attorneys. In February, the county will give out performance-based pay raises up to 3 percent.

“People are the asset to the community — they’re the ones who have the day-to-day responsibility of responding to the community’s needs,” County Commission Chairman Tim Lee said. “And it’s important in any organization that you take care of your assets that perform.”

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 3, with the commission expected to vote Sept. 10 on adoption.

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