Dozens of Cobb public safety employees and their supporters packed the board of commissioners meeting Tuesday night to advocate for better pay and benefits amid what they described as a staffing crisis.
Matt Babcock, a former Cobb firefighter, told the board that he felt forced to leave the job he loved for the private sector in order to support his family. He called Cobb’s retirement program “the worst” in the metro area, and warned of a “known and escalating crisis” due to high turnover.
“Chronic short-staffing is a danger to our community,” Babcock said. “Our public safety employees aren’t sticking around because they see that they don’t have a future with Cobb.”
Currently, the fire department and police department each have more than 80 unfilled openings.
Kim Peace Hill, cofounder of Blue Thanksgiving, a local support organization for law enforcement, said public safety employees do not make a living wage and some are having to choose between buying groceries and paying medical bills. She accused commissioners of ignoring warnings from leaders like Jack Forsythe, the former head of public safety who resigned in 2014 in frustration over staffing and resources.
“Years of failure have brought us here,” Hill said.
Several speakers noted that most of Cobb’s public safety employees cannot afford to live in the county.
Commissioner Lisa Cupid said she was upset to hear that public safety employees are struggling, and urged them to continue to speak up as the county approaches budget season.
Chairman Mike Boyce echoed that sentiment while offering a fiery rebuttal to assertions by several speakers that the board “doesn’t care” about county employees. He said 44 percent of the county’s budget goes to public safety.
“To say this board doesn’t care is offensive,” Boyce said. He added that the county was now in a position to consider raises for public safety only because the board passed his tax hike last year.
“Keep involved but be patient,” he told the crowd. “We have to see what the implications are of rearranging the budget.”
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