ACC commissioners tangled over proposed salary increase

Athens-Clarke County commissioners argued last night over a possible pay raise.

The majority of commissioners who spoke at last night’s agenda-setting meeting appeared to support the pay hike, likely easing its passage when they vote early next month. If passed, the pay increase would raise the commissioners’ base salary from $15,000 per year, a rate set in 2001, to $28,693 per year, beginning in January 2023.

“This is not a job for landed gentry…”

Carol Myers of District 8, who supports the proposal, said the pay rise could encourage more people to show up for local government offices.

“To increase that pool of Athenians who can afford to run for commissioner, we need to start fixing the pay and making it fairer,” Myers said. “It is, as I say, for some people it is not a job for the landed gentry in the House of Lords.”

Melissa Link of District 3 pointed out that the Commission’s workload has increased in recent years, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the election of a generally more active group of local legislators.

“These meetings are later and longer than they’ve ever been, and that’s because we’re getting the job done and we’re doing a good job,” Link said.

$15,000 is the base salary, but Commissioners earn a bit more.

The figure of $28,693 was offered because it is the average salary for commissioners in similar-sized counties in Georgia. Ovita Thornton of District 9 noted that Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed budget includes a $5,000 salary increase for all county commissioners in the state. If Kemp’s budget passes and the local wage hike passes, it would significantly reduce the amount of money the county would spend on the wage increase.

While the commissioners’ base salary is currently $15,000 per year, cost-of-living adjustments automatically raise it to $19,133.14 per year. Commissioners can also earn an additional $1,200 per month for completing certification training. On top of that, long-serving commissioners earn increases in their pay based on how long they’ve been on the commission.

District 6’s Jesse Houle compared the proposed wage increase to a wage increase for county employees passed last year by the Commission.

“We raised the salary floor in our last budget cycle to 15 [dollars] one hour and which makes the minimum wage for our employees [$31,200 per year]”, Houle said. “And we’re talking about going in, again, below that.

District 9’s Thornton signaled that she favors an increase in general, but said now was not the time to impose an additional burden on ratepayers. Thornton also suggested that, if the commissioners want a raise, they should change the local charter to make their jobs full-time. This route, however, is unlikely. Changing the charter would require legislative approval, and the county’s delegation to the Georgia General Assembly is unlikely to agree to introduce such a measure.

William M. Mayer