County elected of­fi­cials could get raises

Com­mis­sioner Dou­glas doesn’t want to see salary in­creases for board

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

Sev­eral of New­ton County’s elected of­fi­cials are set to get a raise once the state of Ge­or­gia of­fi­cially says the county’s pop­u­la­tion has ex­ceeded 100,000, but at least one county com­mis­sioner doesn’t be­lieve any raise should ap­ply to com­mis­sion­ers.

County com­mis­sion­ers’ base salaries are cur­rently set to be 20 per­cent of the sher­iff’s base salary, but Com­mis­sioner John Dou­glas plans to make a mo­tion at the next board meet­ing to un­hitch those salaries from each other and set a des­ig­nated salary for com­mis­sion­ers. Such a move would force com­mis­sion­ers to specif­i­cally vote them­selves raises in the fu­ture, as is the case with lo­cal city coun­cils.

Un­der Ge­or­gia law, once a county’s pop­u­la­tion ex­ceeds 100,000 peo­ple based on an of­fi­cial govern­ment count or esti-

“We will get a pay raise re­gard­less (of the sit­u­a­tion) by state law; there’s no rea­son for us to get a pay raise." — John Dou­glas New­ton County com­mis­sioner

mate, cer­tain elected, con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers get an au­to­matic raise, in­clud­ing the mag­is­trate judge, pro­bate judge, sher­iff, su­pe­rior court clerk and tax com­mis­sioner. There are sev­eral other pop­u­la­tion lev­els at which au­to­matic in­creases, or de­creases should the pop­u­la­tion fall, are also re­quired.

The Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity Af­fairs can put out an of­fi­cial cen­sus es­ti­mate by July 1 of any year, but has not yet done so since the 2010 Cen­sus, ac­cord­ing to Kelly Prid­gen, as­sis­tant gen­eral coun­sel of the As­so­ci­a­tion County Com­mis­sion­ers of

Ge­or­gia (ACCG). A rep­re­sen­ta­tive with the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity Af­fairs could not be reached for comment Fri­day.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 salary guide cre­ated by the ACCG, a sher­iff’s base salary is $78,247 if the pop­u­la­tion of a county is 75,000-99,999, but the salary in­creases to $80,819 if the pop­u­la­tion of a county in­creases to 100,000149,000.

County com­mis­sion­ers’ salaries are 20 per­cent of the sher­iff’s salary, which means com­mis­sion­ers would make $16,163, an in­crease of $514 over their prior base salary, if the pop­u­la­tion of­fi­cially goes over 100,000.

A pre­vi­ous board of com­mis­sion­ers voted on Dec. 18, 2001, to make the com­mis­sion­ers’ salaries a per­cent­age of the sher­iff’s salaries. Ac­cord­ing to a Dec. 20, 2001, ar­ti­cle in The Cov­ing­ton News, the rea­son for the raise, which didn’t go into ef­fect un­til Jan­uary 2003, was to save fu­ture boards from hav­ing to vote to raise their own salaries.

How­ever, Dou­glas wants to undo that mo­tion, and said he’s mo­ti­vated by the cur­rent eco­nomic cli­mate.

“We will get a pay raise re­gard­less (of the sit­u­a­tion) by state law; there’s no rea­son for us to get a pay raise,” said Dou­glas, not­ing he in­tends to make a mo­tion to change the salaries at the first board meet­ing in Au­gust, “…so that we don’t get a pay raise when we’re putting higher taxes on our cit­i­zens and not giv­ing our em­ploy­ees a pay raise.

“Times were good in 2001; times are not good now,” Dou­glas said.

Dou­glas ini­tially raised the is­sue dur­ing last Tues­day’s meet­ing when the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers voted to raise the mil­lage rate from 10.91 to 11.54.

The idea of do­nat­ing ad­di­tional pay raise money to char­ity has been raised, but Dou­glas said it’s sim­pler if com­mis­sion­ers don’t get a pay raise at all.

The other four com­mis­sion­ers have not yet weighed in on the idea in a pub­lic fo­rum.

In an email, Prid­gen said, “It is not un­com­mon to tie the salaries of other county of­fi­cials to a per­cent­age of the sher­iff’s salary or the su­pe­rior court judge’s salary.”

Prid­gen said the “vast ma­jor­ity of county com­mis­sioner salaries” are de­fined un­der the leg­is­la­tion that ini­tially cre­ated the boards, which was passed by the Ge­or­gia Gen­eral Assem­bly. New­ton County’s char­ter pre­vi­ously set com­mis­sion­ers’ salaries at $600 per month, but that was changed by the 2001 vote, when the salaries were in­creased to ap­prox­i­mately $13,500 per year and tied to the sher­iff’s salary.

“There is a pro­ce­dure where com­mis­sion­ers can set their own salaries that re­quires a pub­lic no­tice and pub­lic hear­ing. How­ever, I am not aware of any coun­ties that have ac­tu­ally used this pro­ce­dure,” Prid­gen said.

In ad­di­tion to their base salaries, county com­mis­sion­ers also get:

• An ad­di­tional 5 per­cent salary in­crease for each 4-year term in of­fice they com­plete, up to a 30 per­cent max

• Cost of liv­ing ad­just­ments (COLA) for:

• 2002 at 3.5 per­cent

• 2003 at 2.25 per­cent

• 2005 at 2 per­cent

• 2006 at 2 per­cent

• 2007 at 2.89 per­cent

• 2008 at 3 per­cent No CO­LAs have been passed since 2008

• A mis­cel­la­neous ex­pense al­lowance of $200 per month (which the IRS will con­sider in­come)

• A 10 per­cent base salary in­crease for com­plet­ing the vol­un­tary, 48-hour train­ing course re­quired to be­come a “cer­ti­fied county com­mis­sioner.”

Most con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers also re­ceive at least some of the above COLA ad­just­ments as well as the 5 per­cent longevity in­creases for each 4-year term served.

An Open Records Re­quest for the lat­est com­mis­sioner and con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers’ salaries was not filled in time for this story, but pre­vi­ous salary data from 2011 showed newly elected com­mis­sion­ers start off with a salary close to $19,000. Com­mis­sion­ers make more than $20,000 af­ter com­plet­ing their 48 hours of train­ing.

A county’s pro­bate judge, mag­is­trate judge (Judge Henry Baker fills both the pro­bate and mag­is­trate roles in New­ton County) and Su­pe­rior Court clerk would all re­ceive a base salary in­crease from $67,800 to $72,434 once a county’s pop­u­la­tion goes over 100,000. In New­ton County, th­ese of­fi­cials make sig­nif­i­cantly more than their base salaries be­cause of longevity in­creases and sup­ple­men­tal pay­ments for ad­di­tional du­ties as de­fined by law.

To see a copy of ACCG’s 2013 salary guide, find this story on Cov­News.com.

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