The Dunwoody City Council has approved pay raises and benefits for law enforcement in conjunction with deciding to raise its millage rate for the first time since incorporation.
At its July 11 meeting, the council approved a 6% increase for the positions of police officers, detectives, sergeants and lieutenants. The proposal also increased the hiring grid for the police officer position by 6% to “maintain equity between new hires and existing employees,” according to city documents. The proposal also increased the city’s salary ranges by 6%.
All other city personnel will receive a 4% raise. Mayor and council are not included in this pay raise, according to city staff.
These increases are on top of a city-wide adjustment of 3% that went into effect at the beginning of 2022, according to a press release. According to Human Resources Director Nicole Stojka, this is the fourth pay increase since March 2021, and amounts to an average 20.8% increase for all officers, detectives and sergeants; 15% for lieutenants; and 13% for all other city employees.
In addition to those increases, the city approved a resolution to raise the millage rate, or the rate used to calculate local property taxes, from 2.74 mills to 3.04 mills, which is the cap mandated by the city charter. Stojka said the pay increases will amount to about $398,000 per year, and that cost will be covered by the increased millage rate.
“If approved tonight, we’ll put these changes into effect June 30, which means that employees would see them in a July paycheck,” Stojka said.
The recommendation to increase pay came from the city’s budget committee, which is made up of Councilmembers Stacey Harris, Joe Seconder and Tom Lambert. In addition to the pay increase, they also suggested increasing the housing stipend for officers from $700 a month to $800 a month, as well as allowing all city employees to start work with three vacation days available. A city spokesperson said that the vacation policy has already been approved, but the new housing stipend would need to be approved in an upcoming budget amendment. The spokesperson was not able to clarify before publication if that amendment would be approved by the council or by the city manager.
Mayor Lynn Deutsch specifically spoke about the pay raise for police officers, saying the increase is an attempt to make the Dunwoody Police Department more competitive compared to similar cities. Roswell recently approved a 20% increase for all city starting salaries, and Sandy Springs approved a 20% pay raise for officers in September of last year.
“If we want to have our own police department and be competitive in recruiting, not just officers in general, but the right personnel so we can have the best police department … we have to be competitive,” Deutsch said.
According to a city spokesperson, the department currently has seven police officer positions open.
The council also considered specialized unit pay of $4,000 for officers assigned to specific units. The council will view that item again at its next meeting.
Millage Rate Increase
The city also voted to raise the millage rate in order to keep up with city services. Assistant City Manager Jay Vinicki said he considers the city to be financially healthy, but in the aftermath of COVID-19, the city has been projecting its revenues conservatively.
“We had one revenue source that literally collapsed for a brief period of time during COVID, and that was our Hotel/Motel Tax,” Vinicki said. “It has rebounded, the hotels are coming back. However, we need to make sure, because even with today’s upticks in numbers, we’re always afraid there could be another drastic drop. So we still have to project conservatively.”
Vinicki said that the city’s projected ongoing revenues are not expected to cover future ongoing expenses, particularly with upcoming projects like new parks at Vermack Road and Roberts Drive.
“Things like that have to be addressed with revenue,” Vinicki said. “The current revenues we have in the forecast … will not cover this potential increase in expenditures over the year.”
According to Vinicki, the city also has a structural deficit of about $3.9 million. A millage rate of 2.74 mills would decrease that structural deficit to about $2.2 million, and a millage rate of 3.04 would decrease that deficit to about $1.1 million.
Some residents spoke out against the millage rate increase, citing inflation and rising costs of living. Other residents cited the need to upkeep parks and other city services as a reason to increase the rate.
Councilmember Tom Lambert said he believed the tax raise would help the city combat rising costs for construction and maintaining city facilities, along with pay raises for police and other city employees.
“We have put this off as long as we can,” Lambert said. “I think we’ve tried to be sensitive to the situations of our families and homeowners in the city, and not raise the taxes at all if at all possible.”
Deutsch echoed Lambert’s comments and said she is concerned about the city’s commercial tax digest.
“We have two empty office buildings with leases that expire in a year, and another one that is just simply empty,” she said. “I expect they will appeal their assessment.”
Deutsch also mentioned issues within the city with sanitation services and EMS response times. In June, a family raised concerns about EMS response times in Dunwoody after it took more than 15 minutes for paramedics to arrive at a scene where an infant was not breathing. Deutsch said that over the next few months, the city will decide how to use Dunwoody tax dollars to help make those systems better.
“We know we need to be addressing this,” Deutsch said. “We will be working with DeKalb.”
The entire City Council meeting can be watched on the city’s Facebook page.