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ACC Commissioners tangle over proposed salary increase

ACC Commissioner Jesse Houle supports a raise for ACC Commissioners.
ACC Commissioner Jesse Houle supports a raise for ACC Commissioners.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners sparred last night over a possible salary increase.

A majority of the commissioners who spoke at last night’s agenda-setting meeting seemed supportive of the pay hike, likely easing its way to passage when they vote early next month. If passed, the salary increase would boost commissioners’ base pay from $15,000 a year, a rate set in 2001, to $28,693 per year, as of January 2023.

"Not a job for landed gentry..."

District 8’s Carol Myers, who supports the proposal, said that the pay raise could encourage more people to run for local government offices.

"To increase that pool of an Athenians who can afford to run for Commissioner, we have to start addressing the salary and make it more equitable," Myers said. "This is, as I say, to some people, this is not a job for the landed gentry in the House of Lords."

District 3’s Melissa Link pointed out that the Commission’s workload has increased in recent years, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the election of a generally more active group of local lawmakers.

"These meetings are later and longer than they've ever been, and it's because we're doing the work and we're doing good work," Link said.

$15K is the base salary, but commissioners make slightly more.

The $28,693 figure was proposed because it is the average wage of commissioners in similarly-sized counties in Georgia. District 9’s Ovita Thornton noted that Governor Brian Kemp’s proposed budget includes a $5,000 salary increase for all county commissioners in the state. If Kemp’s budget passes, and if the local salary hike passes, that would significantly reduce the amount of money the county would spend on the pay raise.

While the base pay for commissioners is currently $15,000 a year, cost of living adjustments raise that automatically to $19,133.14 per year. Commissioners can also earn a $1,200 per month supplement for completing certification training. On top of that, longer-serving commissioners earn increases in their pay based on how long they’ve been on the Commission.

District 6’s Jesse Houle compared the proposed salary increase to a pay raise for county employees passed last year by the Commission.

"We raised the the wage floor in our last budget cycle to 15 [dollars] an hour and that makes the minimum pay for our salaried employees [$31,200 per year]," Houle said. "And we're talking about coming in, still, below that."

District 9’s Thornton signaled that she was supportive of a raise in general, but said that this was not the time to put an additional burden on taxpayers. Thornton also suggested that, if commissioners want a raise, they should amend the local charter to make their jobs full-time. That pathway is unlikely, however. Changing the charter would require legislative approval, and chances are remote that the county’s delegation to the Georgia General Assembly would agree to introduce such a measure.

Martin Matheny was promoted to Program Director and Content Strategist on July 1, 2022. He has served as the Executive Producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters', and he covers local government for WUGA News. He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on WUGA at 10pm. 'Night Music' can also be heard statewide on the GPB Classical stream Mondays and Tuesdays at 8pm. As part of 'Athens News Matters' Martin works with student interns to help cultivate the next generation of Public Media rock stars! In his spare time Martin is an amateur book binder and freelance musician who frequently performs with Big Band Athens playing bass trombone. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.
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