Richmond County department directors get pay raise

Though it has cost some Augusta workers their jobs, raises or promotions, a government reorganization has expanded the duties of four department directors and boosted their salaries.

City Administrator Fred Russell said he gave the heads of Augusta's revamped recreation, utilities, engineering and solid-waste departments a 15 percent pay increase, retroactive to May 2, the approximate date the city's first phase of restructuring went into effect.

"In some cases, I might have given them more," Russell said. A 15 percent increase is the most the administrator is allowed to give out under the city's new personnel manual without approval from the Augusta Commission.

Russell defended the raises during a contentious meeting Monday of Augusta's administrative services committee, then took more heat from the finance committee about how much money the reorganization actually is saving the city.

"We've taken the public services department, moved that into several different areas," Russell said. "Those duties were spread among the engineering, the facilities and recreation department, and the environmental services department."

A 15 percent pay increase pushes Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier and Engineering Director Abie Ladson to among the city's highest-paid employees, now earning nearly as much as Russell, at $133,000. Recreation, Parks and Facilities Director Tom Beck's annual salary was boosted to $99,537, while Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson now makes $105,254.

"I don't believe any director, in this day and age, should receive a pay increase before the workers," said Commissioner Bill Lockett, joining colleague Alvin Mason in criticizing the the raises. "I think if any director feels he or she is so relevant to this organization and they don't agree to continue to work at their current salary, they should look for something else."

Wiedmeier said after the meeting that his department's total staff had decreased to 304 approved positions since the reorganization, with about 273 currently filled.

Utilities did most of its restructuring up front and realized savings by shifting to a "pool" system for construction and maintenance crews instead of sending out four-member crews to every job. He cut about 64 positions, many of them vacant, and recently notified a dozen that their current jobs were being eliminated, though they may apply for other openings, Wiedmeier said.

Despite the cuts and raises, Russell couldn't nail down the precise amount the reorganization had saved Augusta government when pressed by Commissioner Jerry Brigham, the chairman of the finance department, for "hard figures."

Originally touting the reorganization as a way to trim $2 million from a $9 million 2011 budget shortfall, Russell said Monday the city would realize only about $400,000 in savings by the end of the fiscal year in December.

Commissioners attending one or more of the committee meetings also tackled other means of saving the city money, including implementing mandatory direct deposit for city payroll checks, limiting false alarms that cost the city about $140,000 annually, raising the price of an alcohol license, privatizing the city's print shop and payroll office, reducing the size of the city's fleet, cutting pricey memberships in the National Association of Counties and National League of Cities, and implementing a time-clock system, which Russell said was going live in October.

In other business, the commission's finance committee approved the abatement of about $22,653 in penalties, interest and other fees charged to RTG Investments.

The firm recently acquired about 50 properties owned by Chaplain Investments LLC in a bankruptcy sale and immediately took steps toward "stabilizing neighborhoods" on Augusta's Dublin, Ellis, Kennedy, Miles, Minor, Nannette, Barton, Shirley, Starnes and Tubman Home roads where Chaplain's houses were situated, RTG attorney Sue Reimer said.

The commission's public safety committee heard the concerns of John Herron, a resident at Richmond Summit apartments on Broad Street, about potential code and law violations at the Broad Street complex.

The commission's public services committee denied a license application to a convenience store owner seeking to sell liquor from one side of his store at the front of Walton Oaks, a new gated development by Augusta Housing Authority on Sand Bar Ferry Road. The authority and several people said to be moving into the new mixed-income development built at the former site of Underwood Homes were opposed to the sale of liquor there.

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