The Cobb County Commission narrowly approved pay raises for some senior members of the Sheriff’s Office Tuesday, in a split vote that highlighted divergent opinions on the county’s looming budget crisis.
Cobb is facing a $30 million shortfall in its 2019 budget. Some blame a new salary scale approved last year that included raises for about half of the county’s 5,000 employees. Criticism of the new pay scale lead the board to approve additional raises for some senior police officers and now deputy sheriff sergeants and lieutenants with the Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Neil Warren told commissioners his deputies have been doing the best they can with too little for too long.
“We take it very seriously to protect the tax payers money,” Warren said. “I know it’s hard earned money.”
Commissioners Bob Ott, Bob Weatherford and JoAnn Birrell voted to move $409,000 from a fund that collects money from drivers who illegally pass school buses to pay for the Sheriff’s Office raises through the end of the year. The pay increase would add an additional $708,000 to the 2019 budget.
Commissioner Lisa Cupid and Chairman Mike Boyce opposed using one-time funds for a recurring cost, and said they preferred to take up the issue of funding public safety when the budget and millage rate is approved this summer.
Ott said voting for the raises was proof the county truly prioritizes public safety.
“Either public safety is the number one priority or it’s not,” Ott said, echoing a popular refrain on the board. Ott said the new pay scale had created problems that would need to be addressed.
Boyce defended the pay raises approved last year. But he said the board had to break its habit of “raiding buckets” like the water fund to cover unrelated expenses.
“If we don’t impose some discipline on this process we’re going to continue to widen the hole in this ship that’s been torpedoed,” he said.
Commissioner Cupid said she rejected the idea that voting against the raises was somehow a vote against public safety. She said it would be unfair to the other departments that were told there was no more money to be had.
“Either we have the funds or we don’t have it,” she said. “It feels like a shell game that’s being played with where funds are.”
In other budget news, the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting saw seven residents speak out against a proposal to shutter or consolidate up to eight libraries to save $2.6 million.