DeKalb County commissioners want a big pay raise, saying their $41,000 salary is inadequate even as they’ve delayed approving pay increases for police officers and firefighters.
Five county commissioners signed a letter to state senators asking for their pay to jump to at least half of what Superior Court judges make. That would put their pay between $66,000 and $95,000, depending on whether judges’ local supplemental pay is included in the calculation.
Commissioners say they deserve a pay boost because they’re working long hours to manage a large county trying to fix frequent water billing mistakes, stabilize services and advocate for residents. Some of the commissioners work other jobs; some don’t.
“It is fairly obvious and clear that this is not a part-time job,” said Commissioner Jeff Rader, who wrote the letter. “I don’t think it’s in the public interest to have elected officials that are key to this process to be grasping for income.”
Several residents told commissioners at their weekly meeting Tuesday that they need to prioritize public safety before upping their paychecks.
“You guys already make more than a starting salary of a DeKalb County police officer, the starting salary of a DeKalb County firefighter and the starting salary of a DeKalb County 911 officer,” said Faye Coffield, a former Atlanta police sergeant, during the commission’s public comment period. “You need to stop playing around with this. Pay the police and fire and 911 (employees).”
State Sen. Emanuel Jones, the chairman of DeKalb’s Senate delegation, told Channel 2 Action News he was surprised by the commissioners’ request.
“There was no support whatsoever in our delegation,” said Jones, D-Decatur. “It certainly doesn’t sell up at the Legislature.”
But commissioners say they haven’t received a raise since 2006. They gave 4 percent across-the-board pay increases to county employees last year.
Police and firefighters are seeking an additional 20 percent raise that would cost about $30 million a year. Commissioners declined to give them an increase when passing the county’s annual budget last month, saying they need more time to evaluate base pay, shift differentials and hazard bonuses. Pay increases for public safety employees will be reconsidered when the commission votes on the county’s mid-year budget adjustments this summer.
Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson said DeKalb’s officials should be paid at a rate similar to other elected officials in comparable-sized governments. Figures from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs showed that, in 2015, salaries for elected officials ranged from a low of $23,809 in Clayton County to a high of $60,300 in the city of Atlanta.
“We put in full-time hours and we get part-time pay,” she said.
Commissioner Nancy Jester said she didn’t sign the letter to the Senate because DeKalb is struggling with strained budgets and underpaid public safety employees. The county’s other six commissioners support the pay increase, according to Rader’s letter. Commissioner Larry Johnson didn’t sign the letter because he was unavailable after his mother died.
“As long as we have a deficit in the budget, and we’re spending more than we’re taking in, while public safety employees haven’t had enough raises, I just think it’s bad policy,” Jester said. “The optics are certainly terrible.”
The commission’s presiding officer, Kathie Gannon, said she will continue pursuing the pay increase, but she wants to evaluate how much of a raise is appropriate in the coming months. She said she’d prefer to receive a raise sooner, but the discussion could stretch into 2018.
A LOOK AT WHAT METRO ATLANTA COUNTY COMMISSIONERS EARN
Note: Figures are for 2015, except in the case of Gwinnett, which raised commissioners’ pay in 2016
Sources: Georgia Department of Community Affairs, AJC