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Henry officials get hefty raises

By Clay Wilson

Most Henry County employees will be getting a 3 percent pay raise, but the county commissioners have voted themselves a 40 to 45 percent raise. They also gave other elected officials raises up to 40 percent.

Commission Chairman Leland Maddox goes from $40,525.44 to $58,684.03, a 45 percent raise. Others commissioners got raises from 40 to 44 percent. The largest of those is Jason Harper from $35,759.76 to $51,348.53, a 44 percent hike.

One employee even got a 56 percent increase.

The mid-year pay hikes drew an immediate response from county resident Bill Kochevar.

"Holy Toledo!" he exclaimed when told the news. "We've got people being laid off every day. We still can't get roads fixed and yet they feel the need to pat themselves on the back with a raise."

Sheriff Donald Chaffin got a 27 percent raise from $95,313.60 to $121,011.84. The chief assistant solicitor got a 40 percent raise from $45,663.75 to $64,077.22. Two juvenile court judges received 35 percent raises. The highest paid of those went from $85,000 to $114,832.22.

The county appropriated $3.8 million when it approved its budget in July in anticipation of funding the raises. From now until the end of the fiscal year June 30, it will about $1.8 million.

One commissioner says that the raises are tied to state law, and that he works a full-time job for part-time pay, anyway.

Another says he can't justify such a large percentage increase compared to other county employees, and that he plans to give his increased salary back.

Following a several-hours-long closed session at a specially called meeting Thursday, the county commission adopted a new pay scale for the county's 1,233 employees. The package, which will cost the county about $3.2 million per year, passed by a vote of 3-2.

Commissioners Gerry Adams, Gary Freedman and Warren Holder voted for the pay schedule. Maddox and Lee Holman voted against it.

District Three Commissioner Harper was not present for the vote – and he's upset about it.

Harper, an attorney, said he had told the other commissioners that he could only meet Thursday morning, because he had a court case that afternoon. He said he had to leave the closed session in time to be in court.

"When I left the meeting the salary of the elected officials had been removed from consideration," he said. "It should not have been brought up."

Harper said that had he been present, he would have voted against the pay scale since it included the raise for elected officials.

"I could support granting the rank-and-file employees of Henry County a much-deserved raise, but I could not have supported granting the raises given to elected officials," he said.

According to County Manager Linda Angus, the new pay scale is the result of complex calculations by administrative staff that have been ongoing since July.

Angus said the recalculation was a "permanent solution to something that I gather has been a problem here for a long time."

The last actual raise county employees got was last July, according to Harper. This year, pending the adoption of the new scale, county employees got a one-time 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment.

In figuring raises for hired employees, Angus said the administrators used the Association County Commissioners of Georgia's survey of "Class A counties" – those with populations of 150,000-plus. They also factored in another database containing about 20 metro Atlanta counties.

Their final decision, she said, was to raise county employees' salaries to the minimum found in the survey, then add 3 percent, plus a longevity raise.

Thus, the smallest percentage increase given to an employee was 3 percent, while the largest was almost 56 percent.

Angus, her assistant, the county's five division heads, and the county attorney will not get an increase this fiscal year.

Angus said she determined this for two reasons: those positions are evaluated annually, and she wanted to avoid any appearance of self-interest in the computation process.

For elected officials, the administrative staff used a survey of Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett and Cobb counties. Taking the average of the county supplements for superior court judge positions, the staff then determined the supplement for Henry's superior court judges.

Many of the computations for other elected officials, Angus said, revolved around the total salary (county supplement plus state) of the judges.

For instance, the salary for the sheriff equals the state-required minimum salary plus 100 percent of the county supplement for a superior court judge.

According to Angus and District Two Commissioner Gary Freedman, the commissioners' salary is then based by state law on the sheriff's salary.

Freedman, for example, gets 30 percent of the sheriff's salary. Counting the extra $100 a month he receives as the county's only commissioner certified by UGA's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Freedman's salary will rise from $32,194.08 to $45,213.02 – an increase of just over 40 percent.

"No commissioner voted himself a pay raise," Freedman said. "That was just the fallout of the sheriff getting a raise."

Freedman indicated that he has no problem with the commissioners getting a raise.

"The commissioner's job is supposed to be a part-time job. For me and, I think, other commissioners, it's a full-time job."

He estimated that he spends 100 hours a week on commission business. He also pointed out that "most 40-hour employees" of the county earn more than the commissioners do.

Freedman said the overall raise for county employees was necessary, based on the surveys.

"In order to be competitive with all the surrounding counties to attract top-quality people to do top-quality jobs, we've got to offer competitive salaries," he said.

Harper said he's not questioning whether county employees deserve raises, but rather the percentage raises given to elected officials.

He said he feels so strongly, in fact, that he will not accept his salary increase.

"If my paycheck contains that, I'm going to remit that money back to the county," he said.

Freedman said that the individual commissioners must decide how to handle the salary increase.

"Each commissioner has to evaluate his worth, and if a commissioner thinks he's not worth the money, he should turn it in," he said.