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Superior Court judges seek pay hike

Want county to double annual supplement

POSTED: September 25, 2013 6:56 p.m.
 

Forsyth County’s three Superior Court judges have asked the county commission to consider doubling the local supplement to their state-paid salary.

All Superior Court judges across Georgia receive the same base pay and benefits from the state, but a county can boost that with an annual supplement.

Supplements began as a way to adjust salaries for higher cost of living within a certain area of the state, Forsyth Chief Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley told the county commission during a work session Tuesday.

However, since the state hasn’t granted a pay raise in about 15 years, several counties have picked up the slack with the addition to salary, Bagley said.

“The last time we had a county supplement increase was in the early 2000s,” he said.

The judges requested the commission’s support to amend the local legislation to increase the supplement to $50,000. Forsyth currently adds $25,000 annually to the total state salary.

The state base pay is about $100,000, which including previous state cost-of-living increases brings it to about $120,000. The last COLA increase granted to officials was in 2008, according to information from the Association County Commissioners Georgia.

“This is something that we put to your sole discretion,” Bagley told commissioners. “If you decide not to do it, that’s up to you.

“We’re putting this to you because the other surrounding counties, except Cherokee County, are so far advanced in their county supplements.”

Bagley said neighboring Dawson and Hall counties, which form the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, add “right around $60,000” a year to a judge’s base pay.

“Gwinnett County is comparable to that, a little bit less actually than Hall, and Fulton County is also comparable,” he said.

Bagley went on to note that Forsyth’s neighbor to the west, Cherokee, also pays a $25,000 supplement, as the two courts have traditionally mirrored each other since splitting from one circuit into separate entities in 1998.

With three Superior Court judges in Forsyth, a supplement increase would total $75,000 annually, but the raise extends beyond that.

“If that is done, that would increase our total salary, state and county compensation, and we do pull a train,” Bagley said. “The State Court judges are tied to our total compensation, as is the Juvenile Court judge and I think maybe [some others].”

A document obtained from the county’s personnel services department Wednesday showed that the additional salaries to be adjusted in accordance with a change to the Superior Court judges’ salaries would be the two State Court judges, the Juvenile Court judge and the solicitor general.

According to the document, the additional cost to the county would be about $184,000 per year.

The proposal amounts to about a 17 percent increase in total compensation for each position, excluding health care benefits.

According to the document, State Court judges receive 95 percent of the Superior Court judges’ total compensation, while the Juvenile Court judge receives 90 percent.

State Court and Juvenile Court judges do not get an annual county supplement. But the solicitor general, who receives 75 percent of a state court judge’s salary, does receive a supplement of $10,000 a year from the county, according to the document.

Tuesday, Bagley said more specific numbers and information would be provided to the commission for review at another work session before the end of the year.

Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills wasn’t ready to make a decision Tuesday, since the topic hadn’t been specifically listed on the work session agenda.

It arose as part of a discussion on the proposed budget for 2014.

“Any time an elected official is asking for a pay increase,” Mills said, “the voters need to have a heads up about it.”

She also expressed concern about the recent cost increases associated with the addition of a third Superior Court judge earlier this year and the opening of the new courthouse, currently under construction in downtown Cumming, which will raise operating expenses when it opens in 2015.

“I know that doesn’t affect your pay, but it is a lot of cost at one time,” Mills said. “It’s a lot to consider.”

The commission and judges seemed to agree that the state should be providing the full salary.

According to Bagley, this year the Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia will be requesting a state raise, which if granted could reduce the necessity of an increased supplement from the county.

Though counties fund their supplements, the General Assembly also has the power to set that compensation level in local law through the Georgia Constitution.

Bagley said he didn’t want to raise the supplement issue with Forsyth’s state legislative delegation without first securing the commission’s support.

“We just bring this to you for your information,” he said. “This is just the start of a dialogue. It’s something for y’all to think about.”

The state could enact the legislation to go into effect in July 2014 or January 2015, he said, which is why the topic was raised as the commission reviews next year’s budget for adoption.

The proposed budget has been balanced, with a general fund total of nearly $96 million.

A public hearing on the budget is set for Oct. 3, and the commission may adopt it Oct. 17.

 

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