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Trying to see both sides of commission raises
From the editor
Jeff Whitten NEW
Jeff Whitten is managing editor of the Coastal Courier. Hed also like a raise. - photo by File photo

You know this already, but here goes.

Liberty County commissioner’s are proposing to give commissioners a substantial raise beginning in 2019 that, by the time it’s all spent, will cost property owners more than $87,000 annually.

Here’s why, according to a statement from Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette.

"The Commissioners have discussed the need to address salaries for the last several years. However, each year we took no action. In light of the upcoming 2018 elections, by unanimous general consensus we decided to move ahead. It should be noted that the pending raises are not Commissioner specific but will apply to those who are elected to serve in 2018. The raises will then go into effect for seated Commissioners in January 2019.

"As far as we can tell there has been no raise in Commission salaries since 1999. Salary comparisons of like-size communities indicate we’re on the low end of the salary scale for Commissioners. In addition, there are some smaller counties with higher salaries than Liberty County.

"As you know our county is active and growing. Our citizens are very much engaged. This has caused an increased demand for Commissioners’ time and service. Therefore the Commissioners and I have increased responsibilities. I am reminded of the enormous amount time we’ve spent on structuring and ensuring the renewal of SPLOST, the county-wide Town Hall meetings for the proposed County wide fire program, the preparation and recovery efforts required for Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, numerous lengthy budgetary and planning sessions and other activities that require the attention, attendance and commitment of Commissioners. Some Commissioners serve as liaison officers to other boards and committees which require additional meetings. I can assure you no Commissioner seeks the position for the pay. It is for the desire to serve."

End of statement.

If our poll numbers are correct, the pay raise is going to be a hard sell for commissioners. Folks voting on are overwhelmingly against it, and I don’t blame them.

The size of these proposed raises look bad to folks who can’t just go out and vote themselves quadruple the amount of money they’re paid, though if they could then maybe everybody would be doing it. They also look bad to folks who are among the most taxed in the area, however you look at it — combined millage rate or broken down by category (schools, authorities, etc.)

However, it’s not always fair to compare millage rates from county to county — there are too many variables, too many intangibles. That doesn’t make it easier on taxpayers, who don’t get to explain to the county why it’s harder for them to pay to make up for those differences.

At least I know the rationale for the proposal, and understand it to a degree. It costs time and money to be a part-time public servant .

I also get it that Liberty County commissioners don’t make as much as their peers, according to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.

It groups counties together by population, and Liberty wound up in a bundle with Barrow, Camden, Dougherty, Effingham, Glynn, Gordon, Jackson and Spalding.

Depending on your perspective, Liberty came in next to last or first runner up, because the highest paid part-time commission chairman in that group, for example, is in Jackson County, which pays $21,351 annually.

The lowest paid was in Barrow County, which I’ve never heard even heard of.

By contrast, the genial and ever busy Lovette, who is nothing if not Liberty County proud, gets $4,745 a year, per the ACCG. A paltry sum, perhaps, given his untiring efforts on behalf of Liberty.

It’s the same deal with the rest of Liberty’s board of part-time commissioners, who also make far, and in some cases far, far, less than their peers.

We’ve got a link on our website that shows you just how much. But you know what?

Instead of saying, hey, we’re underpaid, commissioners could use that as a selling point to win the hearts and minds of the property owners who foot much of the bill for local government.

"Dear Liberty County property owners, we commissioners cost you less than commissioners in a whole bunch of other counties and we’re Liberty County proud of that."

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