Promotions to have small hit on budget

CONYERS -- Rockdale County officials said reclassification of the county's firefighters will have a minimum impact on the county budget as they attempt to meet minimum staffing requirements for fire stations.

Don Meyer of the citizens group Rockdale County Homeowners for Better Government said he was concerned that the new classifications for firefighters that was approved by the Board of Commissioners would allow the Department of Emergency Services to spend more money than needed on promotions.

Meyer explained his concern was with the county budget, which had already been cut and included a tax increase to cover costs. He believed that the Fire Division would use up unused funds for personnel on promotion and new hires.

"If that's the case with all of these changes, they will be tempted to bite that apple," Meyer said. "We cannot have the best fire department because we simply can't afford that. Rockdale Medical Center may want to have the best heart surgeon on staff, but they don't because they can't afford it. We have to learn to live with what we can afford."

The original estimate for the reclassification was $316,126 as stated in a November budget meeting. However, the Fire Division and Human Resources have worked it out to where the actual cost is expected to be $53,727, according to Rockdale County spokeswoman Holly Lafontaine.

"It could be less, but Fire (Division) won't know until after testing," Lafontaine said in an e-mail response to questions. "Per county policy, an employee that is promoted shall receive a minimum salary increase of 7 percent above the employee's current base pay or to the lowest salary of the range for the classification of the new position, whichever is greater."

The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners approved the measure 3-0 to enact a new promotion procedure and reclassification within the Fire Division of the Department of Emergency Services.

Rockdale County Fire Chief Cedric Scott said the goal would be to hire individuals to fill specific needs within the Fire Division. Promotions will still be done, but testing will be involved to determine whether a candidate can meet the specific skills of that new position.

Staffing issues were a consideration for the change in promotions in order to open Fire Station 9 with adequate staff and without drawing firefighters from the other fire stations, Lafontaine said.

The Fire Division has 125 positions as of this week with four vacancies, according to the county's Human Resources office.

The following positions are being reclassified: three firefighters to three relief drivers, three relief drivers to three fire apparatus operators, eight FAOs to eight lieutenants and one lieutenant to one captain.

The testing and promotion process should take approximately three months with promotions to occur in July. Current staff members are eligible to test, if they qualify, Lafontaine said.