Commissioners approved the county’s budget for Fiscal Year 2013 on Tuesday. The budget does not include pay raises for any county employees.
As the full-time county chairman, Lee is paid a salary of $129,877. Among the four part-time district commissioners, Helen Goreham receives the most at $43,647 due to a “longevity increase” for serving more than one term. Once Commissioner Bob Ott completes his second term, he will get the increase as well. Lee has to complete a full four-year term as chairman to get the increase, while Commissioner Woody Thompson, who lost in the Democratic primary to Lisa Cupid, did not get the increase because of the gap between his terms. The longevity increase is allowed by state law but is paid for with county funds.
Thompson’s and Commissioner JoAnn Birrell’s salaries are $42,583. Ott’s salary was also $42,583, but he voluntarily took a 5 percent reduction so it is $40,453, county spokesman Robert Quigley said.
Lee said the CEO of a 4,000-employee company would be paid far more.
“Being an elected official, you have to have a servant heart,” Lee said. “You’re not doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the privilege and honor to serve the community, but you need to have income to live.”
Lee said the commissioners’ pay is comparable with other counties.
Commissioners are also each granted a travel allowance of $7,200 per year. Lee and Thompson take the full $7,200, while Ott, Birrell and Goreham have elected to take about half of that, Quigley said.
In addition to salary, several commissioners also get a supplement for having completed portions of or the full Association of County Commissioners of Georgia certification program. Lee and Goreham each receive $1,354 per year for this, while Thompson and Birrell receive $1,200. Those monies are also paid for by the county.
Goreham believes her pay is sufficient, “as long as we keep an eye on the rising cost of gasoline.”
“We usually do local travel within our district in order to do site visits and meet with groups, and if we do have a significant trip, say, for education, we do get reimbursed for those funds as long as it’s outside of the metro Atlanta area,” she said.
Commissioners also participate in the employee retirement program based on when they were elected. Because Birrell entered office after 2009, she is in the Hybrid Defined Benefit/Defined Contribution program, which requires 10 years to be vested.
Lee, Goreham, Ott and Thompson, who were in office before the cut-off, are in the county pension plan, which vests after seven years.
District commissioners are considered part-time employees, but they are in the same pension plan as regular county employees. For each year they serve, they will get 2.5 percent of their average salary over the last five years. They have to be employed for seven years to be vested. They make the same contribution each biweekly that employees make. To receive that pay, they have to be 65 or meet the rule of 80, which is a combination of their age and years of service adding up to 80. They are the only part-timers that get a pension benefit.
Quigley said the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution in 1980 to establish the retirement plan for commissioners.
“The citizen’s oversight committee did not include this in their report,” he said.
Lee said he’s satisfied with continuing the practice.
“Although it’s classified as a part-time job, it really isn’t,” Lee said of the position of district commissioner.
Commissioners also participate in the employee health insurance program. Per–pay period premiums range from $20 for a single covered person to $240 for a family, Quigley said.
Commissioners are also provided an assistant. Lee only has a part-time assistant, Millie Rogers, who is paid $23.58 an hour. Lee said Rogers had to be part-time because she took early retirement from the county a few years ago and county rules prohibit her from returning full-time.
Thompson also keeps a part-time assistant, Jackie Jones, at an hourly rate of $22.46. The other commissioners have full-time assistants. Goreham’s assistant, Annett Friant, is paid $60,278; Ott’s assistant, Renee Nichols, is paid $60,278; and Birrell’s assistant, Inger Eberhart, is paid $45,000.
Goreham said an assistant is important to the job.
“You can set up your office any way that you want, but the way I interface with my assistant is that I allow her to do some research for me with departments when we have an issue that comes to our office,” Goreham said. “She researches the issue with staff in order for us to come up with a solution … She’s got 25 years with the county. She is most competent and capable with the workings in the other departments … to assist me in those problem-solution areas.”
Goreham said she could probably do the same job she does now without an assistant, but it would be difficult.
“If you look at our salary, it probably equates to a salary for a part-time position, and I know in my office I put in a lot more than full-time hours, usually.”