Top to bottom: Dougherty County Commission seeking answers with pay study

·6 min read

Jan. 1—ALBANY — Dougherty County workers have often been asked to go above and beyond over a five-year period that saw them responding to tornadoes, a hurricane and, for the last two years, maintaining services during a global pandemic.

The Dougherty County Commission has responded to the latter with bonuses of $800 granted to the roughly 650 county employees who worked in often high-risk positions during the surges of the coronavirus.

To address long-term compensation issues, commissioners have requested a pay study that will look at the organization from top to bottom. That will include the salary of top officials like County Administrator Michael McCoy, who serves basically as the government's CEO and earns $173,230 per year, and Assistant County Administrator Scott Addison, whose salary is currently set at $95,380.

Those top positions, as well as those for department heads and laborers, will be addressed by the study, commissioners said.

"We have a fantastic group of employees, and certainly everyone needs to be compensated for the work, and most of the time it's never enough for what they do," Commissioner Anthony Jones said. "All of our employees are valuable, whether it's a custodian or the county administrator. That's what I'm going to be voting for, to do it for everybody."

Among department heads and high-ranking employees, salaries include $70,000 for Facilities Management Director Heidi Minnick, $89,666 for Finance Director Martha Hendley and Library Director Gail Evans, $82,393 for Human Resources Director Dominique Hall, $86,512 for Public Works Director Chucky Mathis, $84,107 for Tax Director Shonna Josey, and $74,166 for Solid Waste Director Christopher Smith II.

Among elected officials, commissioners' salaries are set at $13,775, and Sheriff Kevin Sproul, a constitutional officer under state law, receives $116,939 per year. Dougherty County Police Department Chief Kenneth Johnson is paid $90,000 annually.

The pay study will answer some questions about how Dougherty County employees compare to counties of similar size and with similar demographics.

"We're living in a time where people get rewarded for what they do, no matter what somebody on the outside thinks an employee should make or what the county administrator makes," Jones said. "I'm not distressed at what county employees are making."

After the financial meltdown in late 2009, governments across the nation saw their retirement funds take a big hit with the huge loss in stock values in which those funds were invested. Governments adjusted by cutting back, and for a period of some eight years, county employees did not receive a cost-of-living adjustment, Jones said.

The District 6 commissioner said he would like for the pay study to look not only at how Dougherty County employees compare to peers in other locations but give a framework for providing regular raises to reward employees who spend years on the job and as they are promoted.

Asked what grade he would give to the county's top administrators and department heads, he judged he would say an "A" all around.

To the same question, Commissioner Russell Gray said "A's" and "A+'s."

The county has a good benefits program for employees, including a wellness and health insurance program that increases in cost over time, Gray said. But the county also needs to keep pace to pay good wages to hire and retain personnel in the critical area of public safety.

"I think the pay we have is competitive and commensurate with the effort and talent we need to attract," Gray said "I think this pay study will give us the answers we need. Detention officers, police officers, EMS, they're hard to find and they're leaving for $1 more (an hour) to go to other counties. We struggle with the Dougherty County Police and sheriff's office to have enough employees."

He also acknowledged the effort all employees have put in dealing with the string of natural disasters and the pandemic in recent years.

"This study we have in the works will give us some excellent information, and we'll make the best decisions based on that information," Gray said.

If the commission adopts recommendations to establish a system of periodic raises, both Gray and Jones admitted the hard work will be finding the money to sustain that effort.

Commissioners also gave pay raises to public safety workers for the current budget year that ends June 30, funded with federal coronavirus relief funds, and plans to do the same next year. The board will have to find a way to sustain those pay increases beyond those two years.

In addition to looking at salaries from top to bottom, Commissioner Victor Edwards said he would like to look at increasing commissioners' salaries.

"It's ironic that you called," he told a reporter during a telephone interview on Thursday. "I just emailed Mr. McCoy about including all the constitutional officers — everybody — including the board of commissioners. I want to include them in the pay study we are doing now."

Edwards has requested time on the commission's Monday agenda to bring up that issue. One reason he is focused on commission salaries is, he said, due to the high volume of calls and questions to which they respond and the time required to do that work.

Edwards also said he would like to see commissioners more involved in evaluating the work of department heads. Traditionally, and by "just the way it's always been done," that job has been placed in McCoy's hands, he said. But, he added, commissioners should take a larger role.

"I think we'll get a better response if we participate and not just have one person who does it like the county administrator," Edwards said.

The commissioner declined to give an overall grade for staff, but said, "I would say the county administrator, the department heads, our chief of police, our PR person are doing good jobs. It's just I would like to see more consistency on their job performance."

As an example, he noted that a group of residents seeking a speed bump in his district spent nearly the entirety of 2021 awaiting a decision. After groups of residents made several appearances and submitted a petition, the commission ultimately approved several speed bumps intended to slow traffic in the neighborhood.

In contrast, Edwards said, a group that recently appeared to request renovation of the historic water tower in the Radium Springs area was given a more receptive hearing.

Edwards also said he would like for staff to address issues that traditionally have not been addressed by the county, including providing funding for the Albany Rescue Mission to assist the homeless community and housing.

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