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Douglas gives up fighting pay raise
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Correction: The salaries of commissioners have been updated to include the $514 a year raise that will take place Jan. 1, 2014. The original story misstated this fact.

Pay raises for elected county officials, including commissioners, triggered by the county’s population officially topping 100,000, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, after the Board of Commissioners took no action to the contrary Tuesday.

Commissioner John Douglas had repeatedly said he felt all board pay raises should have to be voted on by the board. But a majority of commissioners disagreed, saying although the timing of this raise is far from ideal, the current system takes the politics out of the decision. Douglas made a motion Tuesday to indefinitely postpone taking action related to raises, which was approved unanimously.

After the meeting, he said in an email that the vote “means no action will be taken to stop the pay raise.
“I have tried repeatedly both in public and behind the scenes to stop the ill-advised and unnecessary county commission pay raise, but to no avail. In spite of my best efforts and reasons, there was no support among the other commissioners to halt this backdoor hike,’’ Douglas said in the email.

“While this is not a large increase, the principle stands tall that we should NOT get ANY pay raise while our employees have suffered five years with no pay raises and numerous furlough days and we all continue to endure a never-ending recession,” Douglas said.

A previous board of commissioners voted in 2001 to tie commissioners’ salaries to 20 percent of the sheriff’s base salary. Under state law, sheriffs, and other state-defined positions such as probate judges and Superior Court clerks, have their pay determined by the population of the county in which they serve.

In counties with populations between 75,000-99,999, sheriffs make a base salary of $78,247.21, but the base salary increases to $80,819.51 for counties with 100,000-149,999 populations. Newton County had a 2010 Census population of 99,958, but the Census Bureau estimated its 2013 population to be 101,505.

Douglas focused on the issue because he said it wasn’t right for county commissioners to get raises when the board had just decided to raise the county’s millage rate – informally called the property tax. Douglas was the lone vote in opposition to the raise.

Other commissioners agreed the timing of the raise was poor, and commissioners Nancy Schulz and Lanier Sims pledged to give their extra salary – $514 a year – back to the county, while Commissioner Levie Maddox said Wednesday he’ll give his raise to charity.

Sims and Schulz previously expressed strong feelings that the salaries should remain tied to population to remove any political influence. The next raise won’t occur until the county reaches 150,000 people, which will likely be several years if not decades from now (though the county grew from 62,000 people in 2000 to 99,958 people in 2010 during a time of unprecedented home building and mortgage lending).

Douglas said he will give his additional money to his church.

“I trust the church to better use the money than I do (the) government,” he said in a follow-up email.

J.C. Henderson is the only commissioner who has said he will keep the raise. He told The News previously that he needs the money, because he is retired and does not have other full-time work like the rest of the board.

In addition to their annual base salaries, which will be $16,163 in 2014, commissioners also get a raise for completing one-time state-certified training, cost-of- living adjustments, $200 in monthly miscellaneous expenses, and a 5 percent increase for every four-year term in office.

Including their $200 monthly stipend and 2014 raise, individual commissioners will make the following:
- Henderson - $23,552
- Schulz - $21,893
- Sims - $21,064
- Douglas - $19,499
- Maddox - $19,499

The base pay rates of the probate/magistrate judge, Superior Court clerk and tax commissioner will increase from $67,800 to $72,434 in 2014; those offices also get cost-of- living adjustments, 5 percent raises for each four-year term, and have other varying sources of revenue.