FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County officials voted to move forward with a bid to increase the annual compensation for county commissioners by $10,000.
Commissioners voted 3-2 July 6 to start the process to increase the board member’s annual compensation to $49,500 for the chairman and $48,000 for the other members. The resolution includes no additional compensation for extra meetings.
Commissioners Cindy Jones Mills and Pete Amos voted against the motion. If approved, the salary increases won’t go into effect until January 1, 2019. The county attorney will bring a resolution back to the board at a later time.
Currently, board members receive roughly a $38,000 base salary, with the chairman receiving a slightly higher salary due to added duties.
After hearing from the public regarding the raise, Commission Chairman Todd Levent said the state has the system set up for salary increases based on population.
“It’s out of our control,” Levent said. “We’d love to be on the same schedule as most other elected officials. When there is a population increase, they automatically get a raise because it’s assumed their job and workload goes up. But we are some of the few who get stuck.”
Commissioners’ jobs are considered part time, Levent said, although they often put in full-time hours, with most working within their capacity for 40-50 hours a week.
Additionally, board members often compile thousands of miles on their personal cars and attend more than 20 meetings with the public each month.
Levent said the board is striving to maintain their salary to not exceed the average salary of newly hired law enforcement, firefighters or teachers.
On June 20, the board voted to raise compensation to around $42,000. Additionally, that proposal included compensation of $250 per meeting, with a maximum of eight eligible meetings per month for board members and 12 for the chairman or chairwoman.
He said board members heard many comments from the public relating to the raise, and decided to update the June 20 motion to remove the $250 meeting compensation and instead raise the base salary.
Mills said she didn’t like the higher base salary because commissioners aren’t required to have a college degree. She said preferred to compare salaries with other area commissioners, rather than other county workers.
At the June 20 meeting, Mills said she’s afraid an increase might draw candidates induced to run solely for the money.
Commissioner Rick Swope said he supports the increase and hopes it will encourage the public to become more involved in local government, including by becoming elected officials.
“There will be many people who will be excluded from being able to sit in this seat for a variety of reasons,” Swope said. “However, I don’t want financial hardship to be one of those. I’ve watched my fellow commissioners, and they all earn what’s paid.”
He said he thinks the raise would help those interested in running be able to keep up with the average cost of living in the county.
The median household income in Forsyth County is just shy of $90,000, Swope said. In his district alone, the median household income is $170,000. If it were its own county, Swope said it’d be the wealthiest in the nation.
“I want to see a school teacher, for example, be able to take a sabbatical from teaching and not experience financial hardship,” Swope said. “This is one way to encourage more people to run for office.”
He said it’s hard to compare Forsyth to surrounding counties because it’s not “size, but momentum.” And with Forsyth County’s population growing rapidly, he said the work expected for the elected officials is increasing.
“Nobody needs any skill to manager a ship in port, but when it’s moving as rapidly as it is, it’s an entirely different skill,” Swope said. “As we go forward, I hope this county can continue to encourage people of skill, experience and service to run for office.”