Commissioners pushing for “Fast Answer” in pay raises

News, Opinion

What’s the rush in Gilmer County for Post Commissioner pay raises? As the issue is moving forward in the Board of Commissioners revolves around three post commissioners, new information has drastically changed how the Board as a whole is attempting to achieve the goal of a raise.

Looking back into recent years, the Administrative Wages stood at $20,685 in 2017. It was then raised in 2018 to $21,083, not an uncommon increase as post commissioner positions gain “Cost of Living” adjustments, certification supplements, or longevity increases.

The current Post Commissioners’ base salary is $7,125.38. If the Post Commissioner has completed the Carl Vinson Institute of Government classes, they gain $1,200 in supplement pay. There is also Cost of Living Increases that have been added in recent years as well as a “Longevity Payment” if the Post Commissioner is re-elected. Additionally, health insurance is included.

However, this raise will only increase the Base Pay, everything else is added on after. So it will take what is considered a part-time position as Post Commissioner from $7,125.38 to $14,250.76.

It has been well documented that Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch is the one who initiated the conversation about a raise for Post Commissioners. He has said that as he looks at the position on his way out, he did not run for re-election, it is something that he feels should be changed. The final agreed amount seemed to fall at doubling the base pay of the position, from 10% of the chairman’s salary to 20%.

When it was originally brought up, the idea was to handle the change by “home rule.” This means that the Board would change its own charter, and it would hold meetings where citizens could speak and comment on their thoughts about the change. Then the board would approve or not approve the change. If approved, the change would take effect at the next election cycle.

The catch came when County Attorney David Clark informed the Board at a later meeting that such a change would have had to be done before qualifying. This was a time when Crouch said he was unsure if he would run again or not.

This is because if the positions pay changes, it will affect qualifying fees for running in the election for that position. A post commissioner candidate pays 3% of the position’s annual salary as a qualifying fee.

However, since this revelation, the county has not decided to move forward with the change to take effect for the next election cycle. They have instead pushed straight for a local legislation answer to the issue by sending it to Atlanta to be approved by the state in their earl 2019 legislative session.

However, if this happens, it will not only push away the opportunity for a public hearing and opinions by locals on the issue as the county’s charter demands, it will also take immediate effect as soon as the Governor signs the bill. It will also take effect for BOTH post commissioner positions instead of just one.

This means the current Board of Commissioners is attempting to rush ahead with an idea that was only raised a little over a month ago through the fastest option possible instead of following their own charter and their own rules to let the home rule change take effect on the next cycle. Why?

The argument was also made that these people aren’t paying attention to what they make annually, instead running for the benefit of the county. Yet, in their public meetings, Attorney David Clark openly said the pay increase would entice more people and more qualified people to the position as he likened it to that of management of a $20 million company.

Additionally, this raise further seems to be only fueled by the idea that it makes the position more attractive and “worth it” as their is no apparent changes in the responsibilities or duties of the Post Commissioner.

Is that a good reason to raise the position’s pay? That is for citizens to decide instead of state legislators.

If this is sent to the state legislation instead of handled at the county level, it also introduces a fault in the law of the county. As it is stated that a candidate should pay 3% of the Post Commissioner annual salary as a qualifying fee. Changing through state legislation puts these people outside of the county’s law as they did not pay the expected 3%.

Yes the Post 1 Commissioner (Dallas Miller) has spent close to two years in the position being paid what he qualified for with the 3%, but the Post 2 Commissioner Elect (Karleen Ferguson) will likely only spend 6 months in office before her salary doubles. The “6 months” comes from estimations from county officials that the Governor may not even sign the bill, if approved, until June or July. Regardless, that is a Post 2 Commissioner spending the vast majority of her term at double the salary that she “qualified” for.

Put aside the people, put aside the question of if the raise should happen or not. The real question is why the Board is so bent on pushing this change through as fast as possible.

Breaking down the options is easy.

Home Rule requires a time frame before qualifying, requires all advertisements and public hearings necessary for changing the county’s charter, and doesn’t take effect until the position is up for election again.

Local Legislation is done in the next three months, is only required to spread the information of the change through state level requirements, and takes effects for all parties immediately.

The moral question at hand is not whether the Post Commissioners deserve a raise, many past Post Commissioners have openly stated that the job is not worth the pay. The question is simple, “WHY THE RUSH?”

Why does the Board not move forward with a suggested change to its charter or ordinances as it should, and as it has with many of its other changes including the River Regulations, Land Ordinance changes, and even its annual budgets.

Why the rush?

Commissioners getting a raise?

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A “hindrance” is how Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch described the toll a Post Commissioner takes during their service.

Having served almost four years and stepping down at the end of December, Crouch has led the board’s discussion on Commissioner salaries as he described in October’s meetings how it has affected both his business and life.

Crouch went further to say the increase would help to attract people who would do a good job for the county, noting that his business has been affected by the time he has spent on Post Commissioner duties and has cost him money in the long run.

However, much has changed since he began the conversations earlier this month in budget sessions. The Commissioners are still considering raising the salaries from 10% to 20% of the Chairman’s, effectively doubling the pay. Yet, the county’s attorney, David Clark, informed them during the special session that changing the salary should have been done before qualifying was held for the position.

Discussion continued on the topic despite the setback as the county is moving toward a legislative session answer to the obstacle. Though the board can change the salary prior to qualifying, now, they will seek to have their District Representative and Speaker of the House David Ralston or State Senator Steve Gooch introduce a change the county’s Post Commissioner salaries in the 2019 general assembly.

Clark also noted the last time the Commissioner’s Salary was changed was in 2001. Though all three Commissioners agreed about changing the salaries, moving forward now will also change the discussion since the budget session as if it is done at the legislative level, it will immediately affect Post 1 Commissioner, Dallas Miller.

Clark called the change in salary overdue, not only for the Post Commissioners, but for the entire board. If the board was to change the post Commissioners to 20% and then raise the Chairman’s salary, it would effectively further raise the Post Commissioners as well. Even though it wasn’t further discussed during their meeting, Paris confirmed that it was mentioned in discussions.

However, Paris also said, “I’ve indicated that I’m fine where I am,” adding that he was focused on the Post Commissioners at this time, the Chairman not being the priority of the discussions.

Clark also agreed with the change to 20% as he said it was probably a truth that “for every five days the chairman works, a post probably works one day of that week” through their time spent fielding phone calls and their other responsibilities.

He likened the county to $20 million company saying that in order to seek out those willing to put in the time and effort into managing that, you need to invest in them.

If completed in this manner, it was estimated that this could become active in May.

The board is continuing the discussion on the topic this month and into the November Meeting of the board. Alongside the new information that it would affect Miller as well, it also pushes back the raise for newcomer Karleen Ferguson to May as well, a change from the expected entrance at the new pay scale.

Breaking down the numbers, this change would affect the base salary calculations. According to Paris, his base salary that affects all of this as Chairman is $71,253.78.

Taking that number, the current Post Commissioner Base Salary, before any supplements or bonuses, would be $7,125.38. However, adding the increase would shift this to $14,250.76 annual salary before supplements or bonuses. On top of these, the Post Commissioners are added for costs of living and other certifications.

Chairman Paris officially told FYN that they are would wait until the 2019 session to put this bill forward. They would not be interested in adding it into the November Special Session.

Even with this set in the early 2019 legislative session, it could be only a half-year change as it would not take effect until the Governor signs it. Paris noted this could mean a June or July change.

Additionally, Paris also noted that this is not the first time the county has used this option, having previously changed the coroner’s salary in the same fashion years ago.

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BOC Sets Millage

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners held their Special Called Meeting in which discussion of the county’s Millage Rate and decisions were made.

Considered their calculations of accepting the Rollback Rate at 6.370, the generalized budget for the county would wind up relatively the same, with only a possible $10,000 difference over what they collected this year.

With the continued growth in Gilmer County, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller noted it was one of the bigger rollbacks he has seen. He also noted the Rollback Rate represented over $800,000 dollars in budget difference to the county.

The county has not increased or decreased its Millage Rate in several years, maintaining 6.983 in since 2015.

Miller suggested to the board that he believed they should continue maintaining the current millage rate. Repeating their same argument against the state directive of Rollback Rate and what is called a tax increase, the board as a whole agreed upon the unfairness of calling it a tax increase when they maintain the same rate.

Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch commented on the rate saying they could “split the difference” and lower the rate slightly without going all the way to the Rollback. He went on to note that last year, the commissioners had to cut $2.5 million from the county’s initial proposed budget.

Crouch took a moment to ask Commission Chairman Charlie Paris how he felt this year’s budget would compare.

Paris responded by saying, “That we will probably have to cut a bit more. That’s been the trend.”

Agreeing with Paris, Crouch noted he held similar expectations. The board heard similar arguments from department heads including Public Works Director Jim Smith who noted the increasing costs in gravel and stone. Paris agreed, noting increases to diesel, gas, and salaries as well.

The opposing discussion came from Paris as he said he believes the biggest issue he gets calls on in the county is roads. However, looking at the choice between the services and taxes, he said he felt the citizens would be more dissatisfied with what is called a “tax increase.” He admitted that he was mixed emotions on the topic, but confessed he would come down on accepting the rollback.

Ultimately, as discussion began circling to repetition, a motion came from Dallas Miller to maintain the 6.983 millage rate. Crouch seconded the motion leading to a 2-1 vote with Charlie Paris as the dissenting vote.

The bond millage vote also approved maintaining the current rate with a unanimous 3-0 vote.

Moving forward on this decision, the board will begin advertising the rate before the formal public hearings on the millage rate, and then on to the final adoption.

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East Ellijay Council continues millage and SPLOST

News

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Finances became a main focus in a late June meeting of the East Ellijay City Council as they addressed the city’s tax exemption and the new intergovernmental SPLOST referendum.

While simply continuing what has been in effect for East Ellijay for years, the city still needed an official motion for continuing the 3.5 mills on the rate as well as the longtime waiving of personal property tax of citizens as well as the commercial tax for all entities and individuals owning or operating businesses in the city limits.

Approved by the council, the city continues this practice throughout its coming fiscal year.

The Council also approved the new SPLOST split presented by the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners. Moving East Ellijay’s percentage from 1.93% to 2.0%. Noted in the meeting for the council members. East Ellijay Mack West spoke with the council about the meetings he attended and the slight change in percentage.

The Council summarily motioned and approved the agreement. As reported when the referendum was made ready for city approvals, citizens could be looking to see this vote in this year’s election cycles.

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BOE could final adopt FY 19 Budget Thursday

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education has met its two meeting requirement and could be set to approve final adoption of their $43 million budget.

If adopted, the item will change from the tentative budget to the official FY 19 budget for the BOE. Any wishing to speak on the topic should contact the BOE before Thursday to sign up.

The budget is estimated to see a $2,996,931 shortcoming of Revenues under Expenditures draining the fund balance down to $17,403,069 but June 30, 2019.

Recent years have seen similar budgets set with millions over revenue, they have also seen the budget change drastically throughout the year. The FY 18 budget could see the Revenue under Expenditures reduced to $160,392 by the end of June according to a new amendment presented in the Boards June Work Session.

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Commissioners grant final approval to 2018 budget

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners met Thursday, Dec. 21, for final approval of their 2018 budget before the new year.

Before the official vote, the commissioners presented a couple of final clerical notes to the budget where they changed language on one item to reflect the money allocation. The board changed a Public Works line item to phrase its project as lift station and/or scale as Public Works Director Jim Smith brought to light a recent issue with one of the solid waste department’s scales. In need of repair or replacement, this could preclude the lift station project from next year’s budget. Additionally, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris added an item in the capital budget for an upgrade to the county’s digital storage and the 146 gigabyte share of the county server they have. The server does not have sufficient space. Therefore, an upgrade to storage was already included in the allocated money, but Paris stated he had not listed it as an item.

None of these items actually changed any money allocation or lines of the budget.

Citizens speaking at the meeting brought up discussion on items for the budget in the county. Gilmer resident Joene DePlancke asked about the county’s golf course funding and revenue. Paris offered that this year represents the first year that the course is standing alone, meaning revenue will be equal to expenditures. However, it was also noted the “break even” did not include capital expenditures for the facility. Still, the commissioners noted confidence that the facility is continuing its progress towards a revenue generation for the county.

Citizen Dan Meadows commented on the county’s work session and Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller’s comments about the budget and funding for Public Works versus Public Safety. Seeking alternative paths to funding, Meadows questioned possibilities to utilize SPLOST or grants for employee funding. Much of the citizens’ input revolved around the conversations of funding raises and employee retention while avoiding inter-department tensions or funding re-allocations as mentioned in the county’s December work session. Additionally, DePlancke suggested utilizing volunteers throughout the county when possible.

Citizen Donald Patrick echoed the same sentiments stating the county needs to keep good people in these departments. He noted the issues with training and paying an employee but losing a potential employee to neighboring counties who may offer $1000 to $2000 more in pay.

Commissioners confirmed to those present that no additional changes had been made to Public Safety after the suggestions, and Paris reaffirmed previous comments about the progress the road department had made through capital funding in recent years. Find out more on the topic and discussion with “December meetings continue commissioners’ budget conversation.”

Final approval came for the 2018 budget with a motion from Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch and a second from Miller.

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December meetings continue commissioners’ budget conversation

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – While considerations continue for Gilmer County’s 2018 budget, new changes and suggestions have been considered through the commissioners’ December meetings.

Some changes came with an expected increase in property tax revenue that was mirrored with a increase to contingency fund in relation to each other. While the expected increase is based on the current standing for property taxes in 2017, the commissioners decided placing the increase in contingency would allow for some extra room on the exact number fluctuation.

The contingency also further supports the back-up funds for buildings and maintenance that Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller has been requesting as Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris tells FYN that contingency could be used for any unexpected expenses for repairs or other items.

Funding has begun being set aside for the Lower Cartecay Road Bridge as well. In the county’s capital budget, $250,000 was set into a line for the bridge repair. It was also later increased during their regular meeting to $350,000, pulling the extra $100,000 from added revenue in the capital budget from taxes.

The commissioners are still assuring the public they are actively pursuing a federal grant to repair the bridge. However, as the funding is not guaranteed, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch further urged these funds allocation.

As Miller brought the additional $100,000 in the Capital Budget to light in their regular session, his original recommendation was to use the funds to support capital purchases for the public works department. Crouch responded saying, “Since we have a bridge that’s been out for nine months or so, it should go there until we nail down alternative financing.”

Crouch went on to confirm that as soon as they could confirm the grant funds or other means of financing the $1.2 million project, he was in agreement with Miller’s suggestion.

Pursuing an increase to financing for the public works department, Miller had previously made suggestions as to accomplishing that during their work session saying the county is behind in providing roads and bridges for public works as public safety in whole gets three times the funding as public works.

While initially stating he wanted to increase the percentage of the budget that public works receives, Miller specifically stated he wanted to take a flat number out of the public safety budget and move it into the public works. Miller later mentioned $200,000 as a number.

Paris took a moment to say that he had repeatedly cut all the departments under the public safety budget and could not feasibly see any possibility of further cuts.

Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson adamantly opposed the suggestion saying the department didn’t have it. Nicholson told the commissioners that he is already going to lose staff because he cannot give raises to everyone. He further commented saying they would be the lowest paid Sheriff’s office in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit starting Jan. 1.

Nicholson vehemently defended his current budget after major cuts adding that issues continually arise in the county that affect his budget. Referencing a couple of medical issues that have arisen, he noted major expenses that came through errors at other areas.

Nicholson also noted, “I have not increased my deputies staffing, my patrol staffing, probably, in ten years.”

Furthering the discussion, Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchet added, “If we cut anything out of ours, it’s going to have to come out of salary and wages. And you can take two to four hundred thousand dollars out of the revenue this next year because we won’t be able to handle the transports we have from the hospital.”

Pritchett also noted that the revenue each year for the emergency services offsets about half of their budget. He noted strain on their salary and wages already and any more cuts would make the work load unsustainable.

As Miller responded, he noted the great work public safety, as a whole, has accomplished, alongside the major needs of the county’s infrastructure. While Paris spoke about the strides the county has made in public works in the last couple years, Miller noted the strides they still need.

Gilmer County Public Works Director Jim Smith also spoke against the suggestion saying although he appreciated the acknowledgement of the needs public works has, he didn’t feel it would accomplish anything to improve public works at the detriment of public safety.

Smith stated, “I don’t feel like that you take from the gains that you have made in other deficient areas to give to another.”

Smith went on to comment on the progress his department has made saying that in his 16 years with the county, public works has been treated better in recent years than it has ever been.

While this specific suggestion never came to approval, Miller alluded at the regular meeting that the $100,000 in the capital budget, which he agreed to be put into the Lower Cartecay Road bridge project, would be returned towards public works investments as funding for the bridge was obtained.

Commenting on the budget, Chairman Paris called it a “bare bones” budget for its departments.

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Looking deeper into Gilmer’s 2018 budget

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With discussions upcoming on the 2018 proposed budget, citizens are taking a closer look at the finances.

FYN has also delved deeper into a more detailed look at the 2018 Proposed Budget.

First, a comparison with the current standing of the 2017 budget will show the most general changes as the 2018 proposed Maintenance and Operations (M&O) budget at $28,729,313.00, up from the current 2017 M&O budget at $27,037,174.00. While this represents an increase of $1,692,139.00, citizens will need to remember that the 2017 is still to go through final amendments at the beginning of next year when the final records and tallies are taken into account.

The 2018 budget is proposed at this point, allowing still for changes before final adoption, which is scheduled next week on Dec. 21.

The largest increases fall where expected in the largest departments. The Sheriff’s Office will increase $127,755 (2018 total: $3,406,009). Roads/Bridges will increase $214,023 (2018 total: $1,522,758). 911 Dispatch will increase $111,017 (2018 total: $918,140). Fire and Rescue sees the largest increase without comparison at $221,517.

However, as citizens look at smaller departments, increase seem be just as large relative to current budgets. Tax Assessors will see a $77,523 increase. While this may seem a smaller number, comparing it to their previous 2017 budget of $780,086 represents almost a 10 percent increase. The Tax Assessors Department was among those asking for raises this year as they have seen a higher than average turnover rate for employees in the past who, similar to other departments, find better financial opportunities elsewhere. While, usually, assessors have different levels based on knowledge, experience and training, Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris has previously stated the raises this year are being spread in an attempt to bring up the lowest paid employees in the county, not just individual departments.

Additionally, Probate Court will see a $60,880 increase (2018 total: $373,222), and Solid Waste will see a $68,013 increase (2018 total: $787,992).

Another major change comes in from Elections. Considering the coming federal, state and county elections in May, possible run-off in July, November and another possible run-off in December, the $97,030 increase is not unexpected over the 2017 budgeted $33,442. The 2017 year had no county positions up for election.

One department saw a major decrease in budget. The Parks and Recreation Department will see a $57,449 decrease (2018 total: $606,172). Having recently lost an employee, the department decided not to replace the person. While not all of the decrease is attributed to this loss, the majority is accounted through payroll as well as benefits and healthcare.

While these changes are not fully approved yet, the meetings set for Wednesday at 8 a.m., Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m. will have time set for citizens to speak about the budget to the Board of Commissioners. See more when you read “Commissioners comment on budget, cuts, and process.”

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