Albany City Commission holds first budget discussions

Albany Police Department officers would receive a 6 percent pay increase under a proposed budget presented at Tuesday’s Albany City Commission meeting.

ALBANY — The Albany City Commission got its first glimpse at a 2020-2021 budget that calls for spending $290 in the preliminary document presented during a Tuesday meeting, representing a $2 million increase over the current year’s budget.

The spending plan presented by City Manager Sharon Subadan calls for a 6% increase for police officers’ salaries and a 2.3% raise for other employees. It also would spend $950,000 for a housing rehabilitation program, an additional $600,000 for demolition of blighted properties, along with hiring more Code Enforcement officers and an increase of $192,000 for recreation.

Salary increases are likely to be a point of contention based on initial discussion.

Among comments offered during the Tuesday work session, Commission Jon Howard suggested examining an across the board cost of living adjustment of 3% for most employees instead of the 2.3% amount presented.

“I’m a little nervous about going overboard due to our current uncertainty,” Subadan said, referencing the potential impact of coronavirus on tax and utility revenues.

“We can do whatever you think is best, but my recommendation is we be a little conservative at this point.”

Salary increases for “front-line” employees such as Public Works Department employees and bus drives should be kept in place, Mayor Bo Dorough said, but he questioned whether administrators who make $90,000 or more should be given the same percentage increase as those who make less.

Subadan agreed to provide a list of employees who make more than $75,000 to commissioners at Howard’s request. She also reiterated her statement that raises included in the budget proposal are her recommendations, and the commission ultimately will make the final decision on pay increases.

The 6% raise for sworn police officers will make a difference in recruiting and retaining officers, Police Chief Michael Persley told commissioners.

“It can help bolster our ranks,” he said.

Offering officers better training and equipment also would boost morale and be a “force multiplier,” he said.

The budget for the police department also includes funding an additional six Code Enforcement officers.

If fully staffed, the department would have 214 employees, Persley said, but the department can maintain a high level of service without that number.

“If we’re able to sustain 190, from patrolman up to my position, there are a lot of good things we can do in the community,” Persley said.

When Dorough questioned a goal of being 24 short, Persley responded that the goal at this time is to maintain a minimum of 190 “while continuing to strive for 214. You’re still going to have attrition. You’re still going to have retirements. Some people don’t make it.”

Thirty-four percent of the city’s $63.78 million general fund budget would go to law enforcement under the proposed budget.

Of the remainder of the budget, $161 million in spending is earmarked for utilities; special revenue spending accounts for $52 million, and $12.6 million is included for supplemented funds that include transit, the Civic Center and Southwest Georgia Regional Airport.

In other business, the commission discussed a proposed $700,000 small business relief fund to assist local businesses impacted by the coronavirus, half of which would come from city funds. The commission will address the proposal at a future meeting.

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