County commissioners discuss salary increases, but no vote is taken

COVINGTON - Two commissioners proposed an increase in commissioners' base salaries Tuesday night, but the majority of the board said they would not support a pay raise for themselves.

District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons and District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson raised the issue for discussion, though no formal vote was taken.

In December 2001, the board agreed to set commissioners' base salary at 20 percent of the Newton County sheriff's salary. At that time, the sheriff was the highest paid constitutional officer in the county, Henderson said.

However, last year, that changed with the combining of Probate and Magistrate Courts, making Judge Henry Baker the highest paid officer.

Simmons and Henderson suggested the base salary be changed to 20 percent of the current highest paid officer's salary.

The current base salary for commissioners is $15,649.44, according to City Clerk Jackie Smith. The chairman's base salary is $84,295. That does not include other compensation such as cost of living adjustments.

Baker's salary and the salaries of individual commissioners, including adjustments, was requested by the Citizen but was not available by press time.

The minutes of the 2001 meeting specify that commissioners salaries are to be 20 percent of the sheriff's salary with the following adjustments: an additional 5 percent for each four-year term completed, for up to a 30 percent maximum adjustment; a cost of living adjustment for the year 2002 of 3.5 percent; a cost of living adjustment based on future state of Georgia annual cost of living adjustments; a miscellaneous expense allowance of $200 per month, considered as income by the IRS; and an educational supplement of 10 percent of the base salary for completing the Certified County Officials Program.

Prior to the pay raise implemented in 2003, commissioners' salaries had remained the same for 15 years.

At the time, former District 2 Commissioner Ronnie Dimsdale said the automatic cost of living and pay raise adjustments would ensure the board would never have to address the issue again and that "there would be a small increase over the years in the future rather than wait(ing) a great number of years and have another large increase."

County Attorney Tommy Craig said salaries could be changed one of two ways: either at the General Assembly level or locally.

If handled at the state level, the changes would go into effect immediately, but if done locally, commissioners representing Districts 1, 3 and 5, up for election this year, would see a change in January 2009, while Simmons and Henderson would have to wait until a new term begins in 2011.

However, the rest of the board said they would not support a pay increase for themselves.

"I don't see anything wrong with looking at it ... but I, for one, have never and do not intend to increase my salary while in office," District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said.

While being a county commissioner has become "more a full-time job with a part-time salary," according to District 3 Commissioner Ester Fleming, "I didn't run for this office for the income. I ran to try to make a difference in Newton County," he said, adding he would only support an increase impacting future board members and not for himself

District 5 Commissioner Monty Laster echoed Ewing and Fleming, saying he would not support a raise for himself during this or any future term.

Simmons said that while, "I didn't run for office to get rich," he believes a higher salary would help ensure that high-quality candidates run for office.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.