Cobb County Government

January - March 2018

The Water System: 2017 and Beyond

As the end of the year draws near, it’s traditional to reflect back on the changes that we’ve seen and hopes for the future. Looking at what the Water System has accomplished in the past year, I would say that it has clearly been another year to be proud of. We continue to provide quality drinking water, treat collected wastewater effectively at a very low cost to our customers, and maintain an extensive network of stormwater infrastructure. Our Water Efficiency, Watershed Stewardship, and Environmental Compliance Programs continue to be recognized as among the best in the southeast and the country. And, despite being short of personnel, we also provide generally excellent customer service to our customer base. We are justified in being proud of our accomplishments.

The recent snow event provided another opportunity to demonstrate the dedication of our employees. While most of us were stuck at home, with or without power, a number of Central Maintenance, System Maintenance, Dispatch, and Plant Operations staff worked long hours in cold and wet conditions to ensure that our facilities continued to operate. This situation was typical of the level of service that our customers have come to expect from us and that we continue to provide. Water System management understands that the dedication and capabilities of our staff are what separate us from other utilities and we appreciate all of the hard work that goes into operating and maintaining our systems.

The Board of Commissioners also frequently express their appreciation for staff and recognize in public that it is County staff that has made the County what it is and continues to make them look good. This point is made clear by the Chairman in his recent end of the year video which I hope all staff have an opportunity to view.

Moving into 2018, and recognizing that being in a position to attract and retain an excellent work force is crucial to the County’s ability to continue to provide the “5-star service” that the Chairman speaks of, a major question is whether or not the Board is willing to provide the significant increase to employee compensation levels that is needed to make the County competitive in the market for attracting and retaining quality staff. While a partial implementation of the pay/class study and enhancements to the leave policy may have been a good initial step, we continue to lag behind others in the market. The problem, of course, is that needed enhancements are expensive in the short term (although are arguably less expensive than the long term consequences) and recurring revenues (taxes and fees) are not sufficient to offset even current costs. The Board has recently approved a
number of changes in fees charged for use of County facilities (parks, Senior centers, etc.) which will help a little, although there has been a good bit of backlash from impacted segments of the public. In 2018, the Board will have to decide if they are willing to raise the millage rate sufficiently to cover anticipated expenses (including better compensation for employees), will opt to cut programs and reduce the level of service provided to citizens, or will consider a combination of a millage increase and a service reduction.

As you are all aware, the way the County operates has changed significantly in recent years. Cobb County has historically provided excellent services and has been willing to pay the cost to be a “5-star County”. I was willing to take a pay cut 25 years ago to come to work for Cobb because I wanted to serve the public and be a part of the best organization that I had worked with as a consultant. The loss in income was offset by the opportunity to build a long career with a good pension and the chance to work on some truly meaningful and challenging projects (remember the Chattahoochee Tunnel project?). The aspects of the County that attracted me 25 years ago are not as attractive today. I hope that the direction that the County has taken over the last few years will be reversed in 2018 by adoption of a budget and millage rate that will support the claim that we remain among the very best, and this can once again be seen as a very excellent place to spend a career.

It was stated after World War II that “the price of peace is eternal vigilance” (there are many variations on that statement). I would suggest that a part of the price of a quality County government is eternal vigilance. I would encourage all to pay more attention to what actions the Commissioners take – the current Chairman wants a transparent government and solicits input from concerned citizens. It appears to me that most of the input that the Board is responding to is coming from a small group of citizens presenting a particular perspective. There will be increasing efforts in upcoming months to ensure that all perspectives are considered. Make sure that your views and beliefs are recognized, and regardless of whether you vote in Cobb or somewhere else, the obligation to evaluate candidates and vote your conscience remains paramount.

I sincerely hope that things will improve in a number of respects in 2018.