Forsyth County Commissioners have discussed over the past few months whether to raise their own pay and have decided to have a consulting firm study the issue.
On Thursday, commissioners voted 3-2, with District 1 Commissioner Pete Amos and District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills opposed, to pay The Mercer Group $19,680 to examine compensation and workload for commissioners.
“I would expect that they would do interviews with each of you and find out how many hours you work and the various types of work you do,” said Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt. “Certainly that’s not all, but I do think they would interview you.”
Commissioners previously reached a 2-2 tie, with District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent and District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson in favor and Amos and Mills opposed, at a work session in October. The District 2 seat was vacant at that time.
Last week, that tie was broken at a work session by new District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown. Work session items not approved unanimously go to the next regular meeting.
At a previous meeting, commissioners said they wanted the study to look into the population of counties, growth, zoning, hours and availability of commissioners, what amount would encourage candidates to run but not be high enough to draw career politicians, as well as other factors.
Semanson said it is not a guarantee the study will demonstrate increased pay and said the state rules meant the only way for commissioners to receive a pay increase was to vote for themselves to get one.
“No one here ever would want to have to go defend themselves asking for a raise, but that’s the lot that was given,” Semanson said. “Essentially, this either says it validates that compensation does need to be looked at [or] it might come back and say we are overpaying.”
In recent months, commissioners and members of the public have debated whether the payment should increase.
Those in favor have said it could lead to a larger and more qualified pool of candidates, while opponents of the increase maintain that serving as a commissioner is a part-time job and the increase would increase costs to the county.
That ongoing debate played out at Thursday’s meeting.
“This idea that you’re going to get better people because you pay more? No, sometimes you’re going to get worse people because they just want a job,” Amos said.
Levent responded: “But, you’ve got more people in the pool.”
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.
In July, commissioners voted at a work session to raise it to $42,000, with $250 per meeting for up to eight “compensable meetings” a month for commissioners and 12 for the chair. The vote was 2-1 with Mills opposing and Amos and then-District 2 Commissioner Rick Swope absent.
That vote was defeated at a later regular meeting in August when commissioners voted 3-0, with Levent absent and the District 2 seat vacant, to not go ahead with the raise.