New­ton of­fi­cials will get raises in 2014

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

New­ton County’s elected of­fi­cials will get pay raises in 2014 af­ter all, as a re­sult of the county’s pop­u­la­tion of­fi­cially top­ping 100,000.

The sher­iff, Su­pe­rior Court clerk, pro­bate/mag­is­trate judge and tax com­mis­sioner will all re­ceive vary­ing raises in 2014 un­der a state law that man­dates cer­tain of­fi­cials get raises when county’s pop­u­la­tions reach cer­tain sizes. The 100,000 pop­u­la­tion level is one that trig­gers such raises.

County com­mis­sion­ers will also get a raise, be­cause their base salary is tied to the sher­iff’s base salary – com­mis­sion­ers make 20 per­cent of the sher­iff. But given the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate af­ter a con­tentious vote to raise the mil­lage rate, some com­mis­sion­ers are vow­ing to give any raise back to the county. The raise is $514 a year, which will be an ex­tra $42.87 per month, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease sent out by Chair­man Keith El­lis. Com­mis­sioner’s com­ments

Com­mis­sion­ers Nancy Schulz and Lanier Sims, who both voted to raise the mil­lage rate, said they will give any raise money back to the county, un­til such time that county em­ploy­ees have had all their fur­lough days re­moved and the mil­lage rate can be re­duced like com­mis­sion­ers vowed when rais­ing the rate ear­lier this year.

Com­mis­sioner Le­vie Maddox, who also voted to raise the mil­lage rate, could not be reached for comment, but said pre­vi­ously in an email to the board that he would plan to do­nate his raise money to char­ity. How­ever, his email was writ­ten be­fore The News pub­lished its ini­tial story Sun­day.

Com­mis­sioner John Dou­glas, who ini­tially raised the pay raise is­sue dur­ing the mil­lage rate vote – be­fore it was known the raises would take ef­fect in 2014 -- said Thurs­day he hasn’t yet de­cided what to do with his raise, be­cause he’s still hop­ing he won’t get one.

Dou­glas said pre­vi­ously and re­it­er­ated Thurs­day that he will make a mo­tion at an up­com­ing board meet­ing to stop any au­to­matic pay raises and re­quire the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers to vote on any such raise.

“My goal is to in­clude in the or­di­nance a pro­vi­sion that county com­mis­sions would have to take a pub­lic vote on any base pay raise rather than hav­ing it go into ef­fect with no pub­lic dis­cus­sion or vote,” Dou­glas said in a pre­vi­ous email. “In other words, even if we left it cou­pled with the sher­iff’s base pay, it could not oc­cur un­til the com­mis­sion had ap­proved (it) by a ma­jor­ity vote in

a reg­u­lar or called pub­lic meet­ing.”

Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son, who also voted for the mil­lage rate in­crease, said he will keep the in­creased in­come be­cause he can­not af­ford to give it back, un­like his fel­low com­mis­sion­ers, who have full-time jobs. Com­mis­sion­ers are part-time em­ploy­ees.

Hen­der­son said he is al­ways out in the com­mu­nity, talk­ing to con­stituents, at­tend­ing meet­ings and, more re­cently, try­ing to get the Nel­son Heights Com­mu­nity Cen­ter run­ning ef­fec­tively.

While Schulz and Sims will give their pay raises back to the county, nei­ther of them be­lieve the cur­rent salary process should be changed, be­cause it re­moves po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion from any raises.

“I be­lieve when the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers adopted this struc­ture in 2001, they had done very thor­ough re­search and had done their due dili­gence to find out what was the best way to de­ter­mine salaries in New­ton County, and I commend them for that,” Schulz said Thurs­day. “So, I would not want to have a knee-jerk reaction and change that pro­ce­dure, be­cause I be­lieve that pro­ce­dure is ap­pro­pri­ate and pro­vides a con­sis­tent for­mula void of pol­i­tics.

“I don’t be­lieve it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to have a vote, be­cause this is a per­sonal de­ci­sion for each com­mis­sioner to make.”

Sims said the sys­tem wasn’t per­fect, but said he was “not in fa­vor of the board con­trol­ling its own pay­check.”

Chair­man El­lis did not yet know if the chair­man’s salary would also change as a re­sult of the pop­u­la­tion change, but he said if it did, he would draft a let­ter re­quest­ing that he re­main at the same salary for the rest of his term, which runs through the end of 2016.

The board will likely dis­cuss the is­sue at a fu­ture meet­ing, but El­lis said there was no con­sen­sus yet for when it should be dis­cussed. Dou­glas wanted to make a mo­tion at the Aug. 6 meet­ing, but at least one com­mis­sioner will be out of town and El­lis said he be­lieves all com­mis­sion­ers need to be in at­ten­dance for the dis­cus­sion.

New­ton County’s 2013 pop­u­la­tion is listed at 101,505, ac­cord­ing to the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity Af­fairs. As a re­sult, Kelly Prid­gen, as­sis­tant gen­eral coun­sel of the As­so­ci­a­tion of County Com­mis­sion­ers of Ge­or­gia said in a Tues­day email that New­ton County’s elected of­fi­cials would be el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive pay raises be­gin­ning Jan. 1, 2014.

Why salaries were tied to­gether

A pre­vi­ous Board of Com­mis­sion­ers voted unan­i­mously on Dec. 18, 2001, to tie com­mis­sion­ers’ salaries to the sher­iff’s salary, ac­cord­ing to past board min­utes and me­dia re­ports.

The vote did raise salaries from $7,200 a year to $13,500, but the raises did not take ef­fect un­til 2003. The board had not had a raise for 15 years prior to 2001, ac­cord­ing to min­utes from the meet­ing.

In the min­utes, for­mer com­mis­sioner Ron­nie Dims­dale was noted as say­ing the vote was for fu­ture boards’ ben­e­fit, so they will never have to ad­dress the is­sue again.

For­mer com­mis­sioner Mort Ewing also spoke in sup­port of the raises, but said he did not want them to take ef­fect dur­ing the cur­rent term.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the work that Mr. Dims­dale and oth­ers have done on this. It should have been ad­dressed a long time ago, and I sup­port the mo­tion,” Ewing is quoted as say­ing.

In a press re­lease sent to me­dia Thurs­day, El­lis said the board ap­pointed a study com­mit­tee, chaired by com­mis­sioner Dims­dale, to re­view the com­pen­sa­tion is­sue.

Hen­der­son, who is the only cur­rent com­mis­sioner who was on the board in 2001, said the vote was unan­i­mous and brought com­mis­sion­ers pay more in line with their brethren around the state.

“(The idea) was to try to get more com­pen­sa­tion for all the work com­mis­sion­ers were do­ing,” Hen­der­son said Thurs­day. “If mem­ory serves me, there was no­body in the com­mu­nity who got mad about it be­cause we were do­ing a whole lot of work with­out be­ing paid for it.”

On a re­lated note, Hen­der­son and for­mer com­mis­sioner Earnest Sim­mons tried to change the for­mula for com­mis­sion­ers’ salaries in Jan­uary 2008. The two com­mis­sion­ers wanted to tie com­mis­sion­ers’ salaries to the base salary of Henry Baker, who be­came the high­est paid elected of­fi­cial in 2007 when he took over man­age­ment of both the pro­bate and mag­is­trate courts, ac­cord­ing to news sto­ries from the time. The sher­iff’s po­si­tion had been the high­est paid elected of­fi­cial in New­ton County in 2001.

How­ever, no vote was taken, be­cause the other three com­mis­sion­ers did not sup­port such a move.

How much are the raises?

The base pay rates of the pro­bate/mag­is­trate judge, Su­pe­rior Court clerk and tax com­mis­sioner will in­crease from $67,800 to $72,434, while the base pay rate for the sher­iff will in­crease from $78,247 to $80,819.

Those elected of­fi­cials, as well as the com­mis­sion­ers, make more than that be­cause of costof-liv­ing ad­just­ments given over the years since those rates were first ap­proved, as well as other sup­ple­men­tal pay­ments avail­able to cer­tain po­si­tions.

The in­creased salaries were not in­cluded in the 2013-2014 bud­get, and it’s un­clear if cuts will be have to be made in the ap­pro­pri­ate de­part­ments to ac­com­mo­date the in­creases.

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