Augusta department heads and elected officials, with the blessing of the city administrator, delivered about $2.67 million in pay raises to 816 city employees over the past 12 months.
The pay increases ranged from $53,917, the local salary bump enjoyed by former assistant state court solicitor Kellie Kenner-McIntyre after her election to solicitor-general, to the $500 one-time increase afforded 43 Augusta-Richmond County library staffers.
The raises – averaging $3,512 – have come in a period when the city has dipped into its reserves to balance its budget.
The man authorized to sign off on all pay increases of 15 percent or less, City Administrator Fred Russell, defended them as either higher pay based on new job descriptions or the actions of elected officials whose wisdom is not his to question.
“Nobody that has worked for us has gotten more money simply to do the same thing,” Russell said. “They’re based on a revision of their job descriptions.”
He cited his office’s two administrative assistants, who garnered 20 percent and 25 percent pay increases under new job descriptions.
To compile the raise information, The Augusta Chronicle analyzed salary information provided by the city human resources department in February 2012 and February 2013 for differences. While 36 city employees saw their pay decrease because of a demotion or shift in funding source, nearly a third of the city’s 2,400 full-time employees saw theirs go up.
Many of the increases were in departments where Russell has less of a say, such as those overseen by governing boards or authorities such as Augusta Canal Authority or the Downtown Development Authority, both of whose executive directors received raises over the year.
Similarly, Russell said he had little choice but to approve Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s request to raise the salaries of his two staffers, increases of 20 percent and 25 percent.
“If Deke said he wanted to pay them more and he had that in the budget, that’s up to him,” Russell said.
In Copenhaver’s case and the rest, the increases came from within departments’ existing budgets and not from the city’s general fund, according to Russell.
Two places with some of the most raises – Augusta Regional Airport and Augusta Utilities – are departments that generate their own revenue to pay the raises, with Russell’s signature.
About 38 airport staffers got a pay raise during the year, the largest being a $13,714 increase for airport firefighter Ronald Kendrick, who was promoted to training captain. The raises, funded by revenue generated at the airport, totaled $215,646.
At the sheriff’s office, 167 employees saw their pay increase while eight were lowered. Some of the changes are the work of new Sheriff Richard Roundtree, who sparked public outcry by asking to increase his pay above the state minimum.
Most of the increases, which averaged more than $2,600, went to jailers and road patrol deputies, though a few went to Roundtree’s handpicked senior staff.
Russell said he hadn’t kept track of how many raises he’d approved over the year and probably would not have a raise report Monday, when Commissioner Bill Lockett asked him to present one.
Lockett was skeptical about the justification for the increases.
“All those people who got those pay increases for the assumption of additional duties, not a single one to my knowledge increased their work hours,” Lockett said. “That tells me that you did not have enough work in the first place.”
In 2011, news that Russell had approved 44 pay raises without notifying the commission nearly cost him his job, despite the fact that the commission had recently authorized him to approve any raise of 15 percent or less.
Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said his department’s raises should have gone through with the set that Russell approved in 2011, which were part of a government restructuring intended to save money.
After the 2011 controversy, Wiedmeier hired a compensation analyst to review job descriptions and analyze pay, resulting in the 189 raises, totaling $783,071, that his staff received over the year.
Fire Chief Chris James justified the raises to 85 firefighters as either for those completing their mandatory probationary year or a leveling of uneven increases for the same rank doled out by former Chief Howard Willis.
“It was only because they had been promoted but not given the proper compensation,” James said.