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Posted: July 20, 2013 7:28 p.m.

County elected officials may get raises

Douglas wants formula changed

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Note: A follow-up story has been written clarifying the situation - http://www.covnews.com/section/1/article/43508/
The story below contains an inaccuracy, because attorney Kelly Pridgen was not working off the most up-to-date information. The story below actually led to the issue being sorted out at the state level.

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 estimate, 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 100,000-149,000.

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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