Originally created 03/12/98

Proposal drawing protests



Some Augusta commissioners said Wednesday they are being punished by state legislators because they gave one of the city's constitutional officers a pay raise and not the others.

Their action, they said, prompted a senator to introduce legislation increasing the salaries for all of Augusta's constitutional officers, including the sheriff, the coroner and the state court solicitor, who just got more money in 1997.

"Where is all this money going to come from?" Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard wondered aloud after reading over the list of pay raises.

From one end of the municipal building to the other, city officials were asking the same question. The bill only requires the raises, it doesn't provide the money. But it still must be approved by a majority of local House and Senate members.

"Hopefully the legislative delegation knows what they're doing to the county if they pass these raises. We've cut and cut and cut and now this," Mr. Beard said. "How can we explain to the people that we're cutting and raising transit fares, then go and give all these people pay raises? It just doesn't pan out."

Augusta taxpayers will pay nearly $100,000 in raises to some city officials based on a plan Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, introduced to fellow legislators Tuesday. The bill was written in response to last week's $11,487 pay increase for chief State Court Judge Gayle Hamrick.

Commissioners approved giving Judge Hamrick a raise after he assumed the responsibilities of Augusta's municipal court.

With the exception of one employee, Augusta's municipal court has been phased out. The duties and responsibilities of the municipal court now fall under the jurisdiction of state court.

Mr. Beard said he supported Judge Hamrick's raise because he was told the judge was performing three or four jobs. He didn't expect the raise to cause as much trouble as it has, Mr. Beard said.

"I don't understand how one person getting a raise can cause problems with the rest of them getting a raise. Some of these raises aren't even justified," added Mr. Beard.

City administrators agreed, saying the workloads of some constitutional officers haven't changed while those of others have.

"In all fairness to the constitutional officers, they haven't gotten a raise since 1993, so it may be overdue. But to say the workloads of the officers have increased since consolidation is not altogether true," said City Administrator Randy Oliver.

Sheriff Charlie Webster, who has made no secret in the past that he believes he should be earning more money, would earn $72,671 -- $13,671 more than he earns now -- if the bill passes. The figure includes his salary, car and gas card.

The workload for the sheriff has definitely changed since consolidation, Mr. Oliver said. The sheriff not only oversees law enforcement in the city and county, he's also responsible for a new jail.

The same doesn't hold for District Attorney Danny Craig, Tax Commissioner Jerry Saul or Coroner Leroy Sims, who recently asked commissioners for a new car to replace the one he's been driving since 1989. His request was denied.

"They've always worked for both the city and county so their caseloads or workloads haven't changed much," Mr. Oliver said. "Now the DA's office may be handling more cases but that's because of an increase in crime, not because of consolidation."

Augusta's legislative delegation reviewed the proposal Tuesday and is expected to act on it by the end of the week.

If it is passed, Mr. Oliver said, officials will have to dip into the city's contingency fund to pay the constitutional officers the extra money.

"If we keep dipping into the contingency fund, eventually there won't be anything there. If we have to keep dipping into the contingency and into our reserves a red flag should go up," Commissioner J.B. Powell said. "That means you're operating over budget. I just think the financial woes of this thing needs to be considered."

There needs to be more dialogue between the two governments, Mr. Powell added.

"They need more information on why we gave Judge Hamrick a raise. If they look at why we did it, they'll see that we're actually saving money by giving him a raise because that meant we didn't have to hire another judge," he said. "I'm for people making more money. I wish everybody could have a raise, I just don't know how we're going to keep paying for these mandates."