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Commissioners talk own pay raise, study

Forsyth County Commissioners could see an increase in pay, though not all of them are happy about it.

At a work session on Tuesday, commissioners heard from Steve Egan, of the Mercer Group, an analysis on commissioner pay compared to surrounding counties. Egan said the study showed commissioners get paid “a little bit less than what you should.”

“We didn’t do an in-depth workload analysis for the other counties, but from what we learned, Forsyth has some reason to think that your workload as county elected board members would be at the top of the comparative list,” Egan said. “You’re fast-growing, you have sophisticated, engaged citizens, you have a lot of planning and zoning activity and you also have a lot of infrastructure planning as well as projects.”

Egan said one of the main reasons for the increased workload was the fact that the county only has one municipality in the city of Cumming and much of the county is unincorporated.

“You have one small city,” he said. “The other counties had three, five, seven cities that took up a significant percentage of the population and land area of those counties.”

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.

Egan said in the meeting the highest paid commissioners of comparable counties were in Henry County, who were paid in the high $40,000s.

The only way to raise commissioner pay is for the board to approve its own raise, unlike other offices which have pay levels approved by the legislature or tied to population growth.

“I do think that it is extremely distasteful the way that state legislature has put this on people to make that suicidal political decision to give themselves a raise,” District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson said.

The debate on commission pay was a divisive topic among commissioners in 2017.

After months of discussion, commissioners voted down a pay raise by a 3-0 margin, with Chairman Todd Levent absent and the District 2 seat vacant at that time, in August 2017.

In October of that year, commissioners voted whether to have the compensation study done, reaching a 2-2 stalemate with Levent and Semanson in favor and District 1 Commissioner Pete Amos and District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills opposed.

The tie was broken and study approved when District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown took office.

During discussions leading up to the 2017 vote, those in favor 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.

It was apparent in the meeting that some commissioners’ opinions on the matter have not changed.

“Some people get this job – and state official, state Senator jobs – and they will not vote to raise (for) one reason and one reason only: they do not want to encourage any competition,” Levent said. “They want to make sure that most people can’t afford to take the job, and that is a fact. And that keeps it locked down to retired people, people with X amount of dollars and it doesn’t let the average Joe in to represent the average people in the county.”

Mills thought commissioners do put in a lot of time and effort into the job, especially on big issues like the proposed short-term rental ordinance or expansions of Eagle Point Landfill, but she did not feel like their compensation should increase.

“Those issues take a lot of meetings, they take a lot of effort to do them right,” she said. “But, you run for this job knowing you’re going to deal with complex, big issues. That’s why you run for the job is that you’re up to do the job. You don’t run for it thinking you deserve to get paid like a corporation.”

Tying the pay to population or other positions and vehicle compensation were among the topics discussed tied to the pay.