A raise for Forsyth County commissioners is moving forward, but not without opposition.
At a regular meeting on Thursday, the Board of Commissioners approved 3-2, with District 1 Commissioner Pete Amos and District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills opposed, to begin the process of raising salaries for board members.
District 2 Commissioner Rick Swope said the hike in pay would increase the number of people who were able to run for office without facing financial issues.
“Ever since I accepted office, one of my great concerns has been the lack of participation of the general public in being able to serve in government,” Swope said. “The simple fact of the matter is there will be many people who will be excluded from being able to sit in this seat for a variety of reasons. However, I don’t want financial hardship to be one of those.”
The change would increase the pay for commissioners to $49,000 for the chairman and $48,000 for other board members. Part of the plan to give commissioners $250 per meeting for up to eight meetings and 12 for the chairman was removed.
Commissioners currently make about $38,000 per year, with the chairman’s salary slightly higher, and a $1,200 stipend if certified by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute.
The item will be up for approval at a future meeting.
Health insurance and state compensation will not change.
A possible study was discussed but was not included in the motion.
If approved, the changes will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.
Chairman Todd Levent said the proposed figures were determined by looking at the salary of county employees.
“We did a little bit of salary research, and they had an average salary for deputies was $50,470, average salary of fire personnel, not counting chiefs … $54,580 and the school board was kind enough to get the numbers of their teachers’ salaries for $57,000,” he said.
Levent said unlike some elected officials, the pay of commissioners is not determined by population.
Mills said commissioners do not face the same challenges and do not require the same education or training as deputies, firefighters and teachers.
Amos said the change would make the commissioners among the highest-paid in the state.
“Being in public office is an honor, and I don’t think it should be a job opportunity. It’s something you may step back from life and do for a little while, but it’s not something you’re going to make a living off of,” he said.
Ahead of the final vote, tempers flared between Levent and both Mills and Amos before and after the vote. Levent called the discussion a “dog and pony show,” which Amos said he resented.
“I just know y’all don’t want anybody running against y’all,” Levent said. “That’s the bottom line to it.”
“It’s a free world, Todd. Anybody can run against anybody,” Amos responded.
Residents spoke in support of and against the pay increase. Sheriff Ron Freeman, speaking as a private citizen, said he did not envy the position of commissioners before discussing the process of looking at pay for sheriff’s office employees.
“It is not my place, nor do I stand here with intent of telling you what you’re pay should be or should not be,” Freeman said. “The process that you have been handed is a process no elected official would want to be handed.”