COVINGTON - Chairman Keith Ellis's office has issued a press release stating that commissioners' salaries will increase by $42.87 per month due to Newton County's population surpassing the 100,000 mark.
Ellis said each commissioner has the choice of whether to accept the increase. He said he's not yet clear whether the chairman's salary will increase, but if so, he will write a letter to the county declining a pay raise.
"As far as me trying to predict what board action may be, it would be difficult for me to predict right now," he said.
It's not yet clear when the increase would go into effect. It was not budgeted in the just-passed fiscal year 2014 budget, he said. Commissioners salaries are calculated at 20 percent of the sheriff's base salary, plus adjustments for longevity, at a five percent increase for each four-year term completed, with a 30 percent cap, state cost of living adjustments and adjustments for completing training to become a certified county commissioner.
The Citizen filed an Open Records last week to obtain the salaries of current commissioners, the chairman and county manager. The county has not yet provided that information.
The sheriff's base salary of $78,247.21 increases to $80,819.51 due to Newton being pushed into the 100,000 to 149,999 population bracket, according to the chairman's press release.
The sheriff's salary is established by state law and is based on the population of the sheriff's county. Other constitutional officers may also see a salary increase due to state law. Ellis said the County Attorney's Office is taking the lead on investigating that and has so far confirmed the increase for district commissioners.
The press release states that in 2001 the Board of Commissioners appointed a study committee to review the compensation of district commissioners, which had not been increased in 15 years.
The committee recommended that the board adopt a formula, effective in January 2003, that set the base salary of each district commissioner at 20 percent of the sheriff's base salary, plus certain adjustments.
"It is important to note the District Commissioners have not taken any action since 2001 to increase their salaries," the release states. "The salaries of the present District Commissioners are automatically being adjusted as a result of the compensation formula adopted in 2001 and effective as of January 1, 2003. The 2013 population estimates for Newton County triggered a statutorily required increase to the Sheriff's base salary which in turn triggered an increase in the Commissioners' base salaries under the 2001 formula. As a result of the increase, each Commissioners will receive an additional $42.87 per month."
The press release states that the Department of Community Affairs published a population estimate for Newton of 101,505 in April of this year.
A Department of Community Affairs source previously told the Citizen that DCA publishes those estimates as a courtesy and is not involved in generating or certifying those numbers.
District 1 Commissioner John Douglas has vowed to make a motion at the board's Aug. 6 meeting to require that commissioners vote on any pay increase.
“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 other words, even if we left it coupled with the sheriff’s base pay, it could not occur until the commission had approved by a majority vote in a regular or called public meeting.”