In this Jan. 2018 file photo, Gwinnett County police search for a missing woman near Norcross. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Gwinnett employees — including cops — get raises in 2019 budget

Gwinnett’s newly adopted 2019 budget includes raises for county employees and money to fill dozens of new public safety positions — two of the county’s primary post-Recession funding priorities.

Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners, including newcomers Ben Ku and Marlene Fosque, voted unanimously Thursday to approve the $1.8 billion budget. It’s the second straight year of across-the-board 3 percent pay raises for county employees, as well as an additional 4 percent bump for employees who earn favorable performance reviews.

The Gwinnett County Police Department received funding for 30 positions, and the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the local jail and provides security at government buildings, will add 41. A total of 168 new positions in various departments across the county are funded in the budget, which is about $145 million more than in 2018.

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It will add more than 350 jobs in Gwinnett County.

Raises and new positions are departures from the stagnant wages and hiring freezes that marked Gwinnett’s fiscally conservative approach in the Great Recession years. The county is now trying to catch up, an undertaking officials have said is important for finding and retaining a quality workforce.

Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash has said that Gwinnett’s population, which is rapidly approaching 1 million, has grown by about 22 percent since 2008. County staff grew by just 8 percent over the same decade.

“You can do lots of things with technology,” Nash said, “but there’s no substitute for that person that’s in the police vehicle or on the fire apparatus.”

Gwinnett police Chief Butch Ayers said Thursday that his department has around 95 vacancies. He said that, while adding more positions while vacancies exist may seem counter-intuitive, there’s “a long lead time in building a police officer.”

The department’s police academy takes nearly six months, with field training after that. Even with stepped up recruiting efforts and the new goal of starting three 50-officer academies each year (the graduation rates of which inevitably vary), the agency can’t let off the gas, Ayers said. And construction on a new GCPD precinct in the Loganville area is expected to be completed later this year.

The law enforcement market remains a hyper-competitive one in metro Atlanta, the chief said.

“We are a growing county — the population growth has not slowed. And we definitely need the additional resources to keep pace of where we need to be,” Ayers said.

Of the new sheriff’s office positions included in the 2019 budget, about 19 will staff the expanded Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, where the sheriff’s office provides security. Thirteen more will staff the county jail, and another eight will work in field operations.

The sheriff’s office had added just 10 positions total over the previous five years.

Other notable items in the 2019 budget included money to convert temporary elections office staff to full-time; $250,000 in “seed money” for the county to begin developing a strategy for addressing the opioid epidemic; and about $769,000 to cover the cost of Gwinnett’s special election on joining MARTA, which is scheduled for March 19.

Thursday’s commission meetings were also the first for new commissioners Ku and Fosque, who ousted two-term Republicans Lynette Howard and John Heard, respectively, in November.

Ku and Fosque are the first Democrats on Gwinnett’s board in more than 30 years and also represent the first-ever Asian- and African-American members of the commission.

“Of course, we have our core values behind us,” Fosque said, “but we are also coming in trying to work together, not causing any kind of division or anything like that.”

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