While most were in favor of the employee raises, others voiced concerns about increasing property taxes in order to cover the costs.
Chief Financial Officer Janelle Funk presented various rate options for the commissioners to consider, but a 5.890 millage rate has already been advertised to the public, she said.
If the commissioners agree to support the increase from the current 5.798 rate to 5.890 mills and give public safety employees a salary increase, the county would have to dip into the reserves, she said.
Funk said the county would have to use about $315,000 from reserves to help cover the costs of a 10 percent raise for public safety and 2 percent cost of living adjustment for all county employees. The county now has about $7 million in the reserve fund.
Costs of the raises could add up to about $4 million, officials said.
At the meeting, 10 people signed up to voice their thoughts on the property tax hike and salary increases.
While many said they were in favor of the employee raises, they expressed concerns the tax increase may continue each year in order to provide competitive salaries.
John Konop told commissioners it would be irrational not to increase salaries for one of the two pillars that makes a community.
“Schools and safety are the two pillars of any community. I have no problem with a tax increase that has to happen, but it can’t be the solution,” Konop said. “You have to make cuts and see what revenue you can grow.”
Larry Smith also asked what the commissioners were going to do next year in order to provide raises for other county employees.
“When I heard there’s been no raises in five to eight years, I was outraged. They don’t deserve a 10 percent raise, it’s more like a 15 percent raise,” Smith said. “If we have to raise taxes to give them, what are we going to do next year? We can’t go years without budgeting raises for other county employees. Look at the budget and put the raises in there.”
Cynthia Antonelli, a mother of one of the Cherokee County Sheriff deputies, said the Sheriff’s Office is understaffed and the employees are overworked.
“I don’t want to see anyone in my neighborhood or anywhere else call 911 and it be too late,” Antonelli said. “Let’s be proactive. They’re obviously not doing it for the money. They’re dedicated human beings. They put their life on the line each day. They deserve higher salaries for a job well done.”
Other citizens said the commissioners could have avoided this tax hike with smart spending.
Canton T.E.A Party leader John Hiland said the county has mismanaged its finances by spending money to build the aquatic center and making payments on the Ball Ground recycling center.
Ian Black said he supports the county employee pay increases but objects to the tax increase, and the county needs to stop spending so much in county attorney fees.
Commissioner Harry Johnston said a tax increase can’t be avoided if the county wants to give salary increases.
“I’ve resisted the tax increase, but I’m open to what we need to do,” Johnston said. “Let’s be realistic though. We’re talking about $4 million, that’s the number for salary increases. If we could find $4 million dollars in savings, we would have done it. So the option is if we want to give raises of $4 million dollars, we’re going to have to raise taxes $4 million dollars.”
Commissioners have another week before they take a vote on the millage rate. Post 3 Commissioner Brian Poole said there’s been spending that has come before employee raises.
“The Bobo deal has caught up with us, there’s been excess attorney fees and the employees have been neglected,” Poole said. “It’s my proposal that we dip into reserves as a temporary solution. If we do that, then a citizen will be paying $711.86 on the average $182,000 home.”
Commissioner Raymond Gunnin said the county is at the point where commissioners have to do something and a tax increase is the current solution.
“I don’t want the other employees to feel left out, because this is just the first step in correcting the problem,” Gunnin said. “It’s a process that can’t be fixed in one year.”
Chairman Buzz Ahrens agreed with Gunnin and said it’s not a one-time fix, but it’s a starting point to recruit and retain employees.
The next public hearings are at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on July 24 at the county administration building at The Bluffs.