File photo. Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Gwinnett’s proposed 2019 budget: Pay raises and dozens of new officers

Gwinnett’s proposed 2019 budget includes significant raises for county employees and funding to hire dozens of new police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash’s $1.8 billion proposal — which is subject to tweaking and must be approved in January by her fellow commissioners — increases spending by about $145 million over 2018. Increases have been the trend in recent years as property values and the county’s tax digest recover from the recession, which brought lean budgets and tough decisions.

Chief financial officer Maria Woods said the county’s tax digest has gone up an average of 6 percent annually over the last few years.

“It is a good sign that we’re able to address many of the issues that are addressed in this budget,” Nash said.

A detailed breakdown of the proposed budget was not immediately available Tuesday. But Nash and Woods said it includes funding for an across-the-board 3 percent pay raise for county employees, as well as money for additional 4 percent “pay for performance” increases.

It’s the second consecutive year that county employees have been eligible for pay bumps of up to 7 percent.

Gwinnett County Police Department and the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office would also receive funding for 30 and 41 new positions, respectively.

The police department has struggled to hire and retain officers but has made gains through recent pay raises and recruitment efforts. Chief Butch Ayers said Tuesday that the department has less than 100 vacancies, an improvement over even a few months ago.

Ayers described hiring more officers as a “a good challenge.” The additional positions would put the department’s authorized staff at 878 — a number that, if all positions were filled, would get the agency within shouting distance of its minimum goal of 1.1 officers per 1,000 residents.

“This is a hyper-competitive job market in the Atlanta area,” Ayers said.

The number of newly funded positions at the sheriff’s office would also be significant.

Chief Deputy Lou Solis said the department, which currently has a staff of around 770, has added a total of just 10 positions over the last five years. Of the 41 new positions proposed to be funded in 2019, about 19 would staff the expanded Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, where the sheriff’s office provides security. Thirteen more would staff the county jail and another eight would work in field operations. The final new position would be assigned to the county’s court annex building.

In August, the sheriff’s office asked the county to find money for a total of 105 new positions. Solis said the smaller number would still make “a big impact.”

Nash said the proposed budget also included money to give a 3 percent raise to workers at the Gwinnett County Public Library, who are not technically county employees. The library is a separate entity but is largely funded by the county.

Officials said funding was also included to cover the cost of Gwinnett’s election on joining MARTA, which is scheduled for March 19. That election will cost an estimated $769,000.

Funding for “preliminary engineering” work on a potential bus rapid transit line between Doraville and Sugarloaf Parkway was also included in the proposal.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.