COVINGTON — There are still questions about salary hikes for elected officials and constitutional officers triggered by a population increase — when they will become effective and how they will impact the recently approved budget, for example.
State law ties salary increases for constitutional officers to Census numbers or publication of updated Census numbers by the Department of Community Affairs that occurs by July 1. In April, DCA published an updated Newton County population of 101,505, pushing it into another population bracket. In Newton County, commissioners’ salaries are set at 20 percent of the sheriff’s base salary. Since the sheriff’s salary will be increasing, that means an automatic salary increase for commissioners. A press release issued by the chairman’s office last week stated the increase would be $42.87 per month, or about $514 more per year.
In addition to base salaries, commissioners are entitled to adjustments for longevity, at a 5 percent increase for each four-year term completed, with a 30 percent cap, state cost-of-living adjustments and adjustments for completing specific training.
According to the information provided by the county, current part-time commissioners’ salaries and full-time chairman’s salary, not including benefits, are as follows:
• District 1 Commissioner John Douglas: $16,585
• District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims: $18,150
• District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz: $18,979
• District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson: $20,638
• District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox: $16,585
• Chairman Keith Ellis: $89,334
It’s not yet clear if the chairman’s salary will be increased, but Ellis previously said he would not accept any increase due him. The district commissioners also receive $200 per month travel allowance and the chairman receives $500 per month travel allowance.
Douglas said he won’t accept the raise.
“I hope my fellow county commissioners will stand with our employees and citizens when we decide on the future of our own pay raise,” said Douglas. “Not only have those employees not had a pay raise in five years but their salaries are not something we should be proud of. I cannot think of a worse time for us to accept a raise, no matter how small it may be or where we might plan to send it. Let’s lead by example and tell our county employees we will not accept a raise.”
Sims and Schulz said they will donate the additional money to the county’s general fund.
Sims said he agrees with the current system, approved by the 2001 Board of Commissioners, tying their pay to the sheriff’s salary because that keeps commissioners from voting themselves a raise.
“I just don’t want to see three commissioners getting together and controlling their own salary,” he said.
Schulz said she will not accept a pay increase until furlough days have been restored to county employees and she’s kept her commitment to voters to do strategic budget planning and reduce the millage rate within two years.
“Until that happens, I will return my portion of that increase to the general fund,” she said.
Maddox could not be reached for comment. Henderson said he will accept the raise, saying that he has used his personal vehicle and gas for county business. He also pointed out that the raises for constitutional officers will have far more impact than what commissioners will receive.
The Citizen has obtained the salaries for constitutional officers, but due to remaining questions about how those salaries are determined and what the pay raise would be, will wait to publish those when more information is obtained.
Editor’s note: The Citizen previously erroneously reported that the county had not responded to an Open Records request for commissioners’ specific salaries. An email with the requested information was sent to the Citizen prior to the article being published. The Citizen apologizes for the error.