The Cornelia City Commission approved the city budget for the next year. The $18 million measure of spending includes a 7% increase in the cost of living for employees. It does not include an increase in the rate of millions, but it does include raising the rate of water and sanitation.
Part of the budget will be paid for from surplus funds from public funds and water and sanitation.
During their regular Tuesday night meeting, the committee addressed minor adjustments made to the spending plan after its public hearing in November.
Cornelia added $49,000 to the Department of Public Safety to purchase a car for the Director of Public Safety which brought the general fund budget to $6,262,237.
Cornelia also increased the waterworks and utility maintenance budget by $58,000. The increase will cover maintenance of emergency generators at the water station and lift stations. It also includes $40,000 to purchase a small SUV or pickup truck to use for meter reading and locating utilities. With the modifications, the city’s budget for the Water/Sewer Fund increased to $11,379,488.
The commissioners also added a new revenue line item for recycling revenue to the budget. The opening balance of $3,000 will be applied to the Fire Department of Equipment.
The $18 million measure of spending will go into effect on January 1.
Changes to employee leave and sick leave
During the Tuesday night meeting, the commissioners also approved recommended changes to the city’s vacation and sick leave policies.
Employees will now be allowed to carry over 120 hours of vacation a year, up from 40 hours.
“We have a lot of long-term employees who accumulate a maximum of 192 hours a year. That equates to nearly five weeks of vacation that our employees find difficult to use,” Dee Anderson, city manager, explained. As a result, he said, “either time will be lost.” Or he takes it all in at the end of the year, and we have employees who take the entire month of December off to avoid wasting their time.” By allowing employees to continue working longer hours, “that won’t be a problem anymore,” Anderson says.
Another policy change recommended by Anderson, and approved by the commissioners, concerned sick leave. Under the new policy passed Dec. 6, employees with at least five years of service who voluntarily leave their city jobs can have up to 240 hours of accumulated sick time. This change is expected to act as an incentive to prevent employees from using their sick leave unnecessarily.
Pioneer RESA Agreement to Employ an SRO
The Cornelia City Commission Tuesday night approved an agreement with Pioneer RESA to hire a School Resource Officer for the Old Cornelia Elementary School’s Program for the Future. Anderson told the commissioners that since the school opened several years ago, this has been a problem for the Cornelia Police Department. The city has been talking to the school for the past two years about providing its own security or paying the city to hire an SRO. Pioneer RESA agreed to pay a portion of the cost.
Anderson told the commissioners that creating the job would cost the city $76,104, including salaries and benefits. Pioneer RESA will cover 80% of that cost, or $60,883. The city will pick up the tab for the remaining $15,221.
The agreement states that this cost will change each year due to increases in wages and benefits. According to Anderson, Pioneer RESA wants the agreement to go into effect on January 1.
Noting the benefits to the city, Anderson said, “My idea is, for $15,000, three or four months out of the year, we’ll have an extra police officer on patrol.”
The commissioners unanimously approved the agreement.
Upgrade the railway crossing
The commissioners also voted to move forward with an agreement with Norfolk Southern to replace the existing rail line that crosses downtown with a full depth rubber sheet crossing surface.
The project will cost $224,429.
50th District Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) works with the Georgia Department of Transportation and has an obligation from them to pay anything over $100,000, Anderson says.
Anderson recommended that the city use ARPA funds to no more than $100,000 to pay for railroad transit. He also recommended that the city make this agreement conditional on GDOT financing its stake.
This article has been updated with additional information