How much are Augusta's elected officials worth? Taxpayers are about to find out, as four more extend a hand for a local supplement to their state-mandated minimum salaries.
Joining Richmond County's sheriff, solicitor-general, tax commissioner and others in seeking higher pay are the presiding and chief judges of civil and magistrate court, the clerk of court and new Probate Judge Harry James.
A divided Augusta Commission recently approved raises requested by Sheriff Richard Roundtree and Solicitor-General Kellie Kenner-McIntyre and has paid Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick's supplement for four years, despite never approving it. An elected official's pay can't be reduced while he or she is in office, according to City Administrator Fred Russell.
The elected officials now seeking supplements are going about it differently by asking Augusta legislators to increase their pay through legislation.
“I would surmise that our court probably is the busiest probate court in the state outside of Fulton,” said James, who is seeking a 15 percent increase, which would bring his salary to $125,932.
At a base salary of $109,506, James is already earning more than the state-required minimum of $85,000 for probate judges in counties with more than 200,000 people.
James said probate courts in counties with more than 96,000 people now have increased jurisdiction, including over criminal warrants and certain jury trials, that will increase the caseload.
By comparison, Columbia County Probate Judge Alice Padgett earns around $117,000, which includes a $4,852 supplement to handle traffic cases in the county of 128,112 residents.
Macon-Bibb County's probate judge earns around $130,000. Chatham County’s earns $148,000, the same amount as the judge in Henry County, a metro Atlanta county whose population of 207,000 is similar to Richmond County’s.
James, Chief Civil and Magistrate Judge William Jennings and Presiding Civil and Magistrate Judge Scott Allen are seeking raises from the Legislature with commission support. Clerk of Court Elaine Johnson said she referred a general request for an increase directly to the Legislature.
Allen, who earns $116,702 and Jennings, who earns $118,206, cite the higher salaries of Richmond County State Court judges, who all earn more than $140,000, and Augusta Circuit Superior Court judges, who each are paid more than $187,252 each.
By comparison, civil and magistrate judges earn $163,322 in Chatham; $132,800 in Bibb and $133,700 in Henry County.
The commission has taken no action on increasing local supplements since approving raises for Roundtree and Kenner-McIntyre, but Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said members of the legislative delegation will act on the salary requests if they receive commission support for them this week.