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Proposed ACC budget calls for pay raises and new hires

Athens Clarke County Government

Athens-Clarke County employees, including public safety personnel, could see a raise, but a still-hot local housing market could bring an increase in tax bills for property owners.

Those are among the highlights of the proposed budget that ACC Mayor Kelly Girtz is recommending county commissioners adopt next month. Other items of note include a number of new county jobs to be created and a $1 million investment in a so-called “strike fund” for affordable housing. The proposed budget adds up to $193 million in spending, a 3.7% increase from last year.

Mayor calls for 4% raises for county workers

County employees could see a modest raise under the proposed spending plan. Most county employees would see a 4% pay hike, at a cost to the county of $1.3 million.

For public safety employees, like police officers, firefighters, and Sheriff’s deputies, a 4% pay raise is also in the works. That would require about $2.3 million in additional spending. The proposed budget also adds $1.2 million for public safety overtime increases.

The pay raises wouldn’t be the only good news for county workers, however. Girtz’s spending proposal also holds steady the amount employees are expected to contribute to their health coverage. That means that, even though health insurance costs are rising, county employees won’t see more of their paycheck going to those costs.

County looks to add new positions

The proposed budget also seeks to increase the county’s workforce. Fire and emergency services would get an additional three firefighter/EMTs to staff the county’s ladder trucks. That’s a move that county officials say would get Athens-Clarke County up to national standards in that area.

The spending plan also recommends hiring an Emergency Management Coordinator, a new Traffic Engineering Technician, and an additional appraiser. An ACC government audit earlier this year recommended that the staff in the Appraiser’s Office be beefed up to accommodate growing needs.

Mayor proposes $1 million for special housing fund

Girtz’s spending plan recommends allocating $1 million to a housing “strike fund.” That pot of money would make it more possible to turn property on the market into affordable housing. That strike fund could be further increased with money from private donors and philanthropic concerns.

With the strike fund, when a suitable property comes on the market, a developer could dip into the strike fund to allow for a quick purchase of the land. Then, the developer would pay back the amount borrowed within five years.

An outside report approved by commissioners last year recommended the creation of that strike fund as part of a package of increased spending to tackle the county’s affordable housing crisis.

Mayor proposes a steady property tax rate, but property tax bills might still rise

While the county’s housing market is not quite as white-hot as it has been in recent years, property values continue to grow. Girtz’s budget proposal leans on that growth to fund the 3.7% increase from last year’s budget. In his proposal, the mayor does not seek to increase the millage rate, one of two factors that determine property taxes.

The budget proposal predicts that property values in the county will grow by 7.13%. For an owner-occupied home with an assessed value of $350,000, the yearly tax bill would increase by $95.33.

Now commissioners get their turn

Girtz’s budget proposal now rests in the hands of commissioners, who will begin tweaking the budget to their specifications. Commissioners will hold a number of budget meetings over the course of the month:

· May 9, 2024 (Thursday) 5:30 PM (+Taxpayer Bill of Rights Public Hearing #1) - 120 Dougherty Street

· May 14, 2024 (Tuesday) 5:30 PM (+Taxpayer Bill of Rights Public Hearing #2) - City Hall

· May 16, 2024 (Thursday) 5:30 PM - 120 Dougherty Street

· May 23, 2024 (Thursday) 5:30 PM (if needed) - 120 Dougherty Street

The Commission is set to hold a final budget hearing, followed by a vote on the budget on June 4.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.