County commissioners will get $514 a year raises beginning Jan. 1, 2014, making their base pay $16,163. However, commissioners also get $200 a month in miscellaneous expenses, 5 percent increases for every four-year-term and cost of living adjustments.
Commissioners' full salaries (including the $200/month stipend for miscellaneous expenses):
J.C. Henderson - $23,038
Nancy Schulz - $21,379
Lanier Sims - $20,550
John Douglas - $18,985
Levie Maddox - $18,985
Keith Ellis, chairman - $89,334*
*It’s unclear if this total includes any monthly miscellaneous expenses.
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.
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.
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 commissioner 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.
Original confusion over raise
Though Douglas raised the pay issue during the board’s July 16 meeting, county officials didn’t know raises would take effect in 2014 until after The News published its initial story Sunday.
The confusion stemmed from the state level.
Kelly Pridgen, assistant general counsel of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), told The News last week that the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) had not officially put out a census estimate since the 2010 Census. Population estimates are put out by the U.S. Census Bureau, but Georgia law actually specifies the estimates have to come from DCA.
However, DCA has been putting out estimates, but for some reason, ACCG officials were not aware of where the numbers were being published on DCA’s website. Many counties depend on ACCG for assistance with these types of issues.
After seeing the most recent census estimates that put Newton County’s population at 101,505, Pridgen said in a Tuesday email that Newton County’s elected officials would be eligible to receive pay raises beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
Saralyn Stafford, a DCA spokeswoman, said DCA’s office of research and surveys is considering a new notification process for future reports, including updated census data.
Commissioner Schulz said she would like to see a process requiring counties to be notified when official population estimates are revised; she said legislation could be one option to ensure that happened.
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 cost-of-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.