Though City Administrator Fred Russell is recommending cost-of-living pay raises to all city employees, an Augusta Chronicle analysis of salary data shows that nearly half have received some sort of wage increase – some more than once – since 2011.
City employees also received a $500 pay adjustment in 2012.
Russell, who approves all pay raises, reclassifications and promotions, says he stands behind every adjustment as warranted, based on an employee being assigned new duties, but several commissioners have questioned the assertion.
“I truly believe that most of our employees are underpaid,” said Commissioner Bill Lockett, who with Commissioner Alvin Mason led a 2011 effort to fire Russell for approving 45 significant pay hikes without mentioning them to the governing body.
Based on the latest report, however, “I’m very doubtful that all those salary changes were legit, and especially when there have been several people who received several pay increases within a 12-month period,” Lockett said.
While some of the increases are drawn from sources other than the city’s general fund, the $1,500 raises to 2,440 workers amount to more than $4.3 million. Meanwhile, the city’s proposed budget has an $8.5 million shortfall that commissioners are tasked with filling as they consider awarding the pay increase.
The increases analyzed by The Chronicle, approximately 1,377 of them awarded to 1,114 different staffers during the 33-month period, run across all city departments, including those overseen by elected officials or constitutional officers.
For instance, Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree has obtained approximately 100 raises for his staff, mainly road patrol deputies or jailers who achieve certification, since his election last year. His predecessor Ronnie Strength obtained 168 similar increases during the preceding two years.
The pay increases studied range from a $500 supplement given 54 library personnel last year to 46 pay hikes for records clerks who work for Clerk of Superior Court Elaine Johnson.
While the raises average about $3,200, approximately 60 were more than $10,000. They included Transit Contract Manager Sharon Dottery’s $20,000 pay increase after a 2011 promotion and Chief Assistant State Court Solicitor Fasha Lewis’ $22,000 hike awarded late last year by her newly elected boss, Solicitor General Kelly Kenner-McIntyre.
Among those receiving the most raises during the period was Jacob Atwell, an Augusta Regional Airport airside maintenance employee with three pay hikes in two years, boosting his annual salary from $31,283 to $40,186. The airport, overseen by an aviation commission but subject to commission approval, saw some 98 workers receive pay increases, including the January 2012 raise for Executive Director Gary LeTellier that brought his salary to $149,500, still the highest in the consolidated government.
The Richmond County Marshal’s Office also saw salary growth since 2011. Staffers there saw pay increases on 50 occasions, including a dozen raises for marshals who work at the airport. The raises, which totaled $153,000 in annual pay, included nine increases of more than $5,000, including a $7,000 raise for Maj. Teresa Russell, the administrator’s wife.
The report prompted some commissioners to question who is being rewarded. Commissioner Donnie Smith said the city hadn’t “looked out for the people that have done most of the heavy lifting.”
“We’re not having people that make $110,000 a year leave our employment,” Smith said. “Retention at that level is not a problem.”
Instead, workers at the lowest levels who need more money, he said.
Smith and Lockett said they had alternative plans for Russell’s recommended pay increase. Smith said the city should stagger the raise amounts based on an employee’s annual salary, with those earning more than $60,000 getting none.
Lockett said the city should “think twice” about awarding another increase to anyone who has recently received one and advocated for an audit of all positions to ensure workers actually performed the work included on their job descriptions and that all are paid the same amount for the same position.
“We have people in this government whose job description was written in such a way so they get maximum pay,” Lockett said, yet “they will not ever perform those duties.” He declined to specify which workers were affected.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said despite having a few days to digest it he “still had questions” about the numerous pay increases awarded.