Tim Lee: My Position on Future Spending Policy

Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim LeeCobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee speaks in Kennesaw, Ga., on April 12, 2012.

Last month, I proposed and the Board of Commissioners adopted, the final budget under my leadership as Chairman of Cobb County. Out of respect for the incoming administration, the budget I put forth is a continuation budget. In other words, it maintains tax rates, spending and service levels from the prior year (2016).

The budget is one of the most important responsibilities of the Chairman of Cobb County, and arguably, the most significant policy document the Board that ever comes under consideration by the Commission. It sets priorities for the county, serves as a guide for service delivery, dictates spending and most importantly is what taxpayers use to hold the Board accountable for how we spend your money.

The budget is one of the most important responsibilities of the Chairman of Cobb County, and arguably, the most significant policy document the Board that ever comes under consideration by the Commission. It sets priorities for the county, serves as a guide for service delivery, dictates spending and most importantly is what taxpayers use to hold the Board accountable for how we spend your money.

To that end, I made a commitment to Mike Boyce that I would not move forward any policies that would impact the future budgets for which he would be responsible. In sum, this means that I will not approve any spending not included in the 2016 budget that adopted by the Board in September.

I realize that this presents a conflict regarding a few policy decisions that originated under my administration.  Specifically, the Pay and Classification Study and the 2008 Parks Bonds. Neither of these expenses was in the continuation budget, and without cuts in spending, both require a property tax increase.

Pay and Classification Study

Following the recession, in 2013, I commissioned a pay and classification study to make sure that Cobb County salary ranges were competitive in the market so that we can recruit and retain the most qualified people to serve Cobb residents. We set aside $10 million for first year implementation.

Unfortunately, for several reasons out of Cobb County’s control, the final results were not presented to the Board of Commissioners until August 2016, after I made the commitment not to move forward any policies that impact future spending.

Four options were presented to the Board:

Option 1 – Do nothing

Option 2 – Fund salary adjustments necessary to bring employees up to the new market range for their positions.  This recommendation impacts approximately 22 percent of the workforce.

Option 3 – In addition to adjustments to the minimum, fund additional salary adjustments to move employees into the ranges to combat what is referred to in the industry as “compression.” Pay compression is defined as the situation that occurs when there is only a small difference in pay between employees regardless of their skills or experience. This recommendation impacts approximately 44 percent of the workforce.

Option 4 – In addition to adjustments to the minimum, fund an across the board increase in salaries.

The consultant and County Manager recommended option 3. Given the impact of this recommendation on future budgets, I subsequently suggested that this policy comes back to the Board for consideration in January 2017.

  • While we have set aside $10 million for the first year of implementation, the recommendation comes with an initial price tag of $12.8 million and a recurring cost of $11.2 million.
  • To that end, some commissioners recommended that the new salary ranges not go into effect until April 2017 which reduces the one-time implementation cost to $5.6 million.
  • While the funds to cover the one-time cost are in the 2017 adopted budget, funds to cover the additional $11.2 million of annual spending have not been identified and are equivalent to a .42 increase in the general fund millage rate.

I am so appreciative of the dedication and hard work of all Cobb County employees and am pleased that the adopted budget includes funding for a 3 percent merit increase. But, because I have made a commitment not to bind the incoming administration with any future spending, outside of the adopted budget, for all of the reasons stated above, I believe firmly that adoption of the pay and class recommendation should be held until January. And fortunately, since the current recommendation does not go into effect until April of next year, my position does not negatively impact employees.

2008 Parks Bonds

Again, because the adopted budget is a continuation budget, the issuance of the 2008 Parks Bond is not included.

  • The issuance of the $24.7 million in Parks Bond is equivalent to a .13 debt service millage rate increase. This increase will not be adopted or take effect until 2018 when the new administration is in place.
  • The recommended property list has not released. Therefore, adopting a resolution to issue the bonds now means we are committed to spending, but we don’t yet know what we are buying.

I have recommended that following the release of the recommended properties for purchase, district commissioners work together with the incoming chair and constituents to put together a final list of properties for purchase. The goal is to have this final list ready by January. At that time, the Board that will be in place when the millage is increased in July can vote on whether or not to move forward.

I understand that my position NOT to consider new policy and spending is frustrating to board members, staff and even some residents. Truthfully, this is an awkward spot to be in, and I wish the circumstances were different. But they are not, and I feel strongly that it is up to the new leader to make decisions for the future of Cobb and it would be irresponsible of me to hinder his ability to do just that.

About the author

Tim Lee

Tim Lee was elected as the 6th Chairman of Cobb County in July 2010. Prior to being elected Chairman, he served as District 3 Commissioner from 2002-2010.