The Douglas County Board of Commissioners tabled a request made by new county coroner Renee Godwin Tuesday to increase her salary by 81 percent after only two months in office.
The possible salary increase, discussed extensively with Godwin reportedly in an executive session following Monday's work session, drew further discussion by the four district commissioners at Tuesday's voting meeting for further consideration.
The BOC was asked to increase the coroner's salary from $32,000 to $58,000 plus benefits and execute contracts for the Chief Deputy Coroner Wayne Rogers at $22,000 and second and third part time deputy coroners at $20,000 each annually through December 31, 2017. The job of coroner is classified as a part-time position in Douglas County.
This would amend the coroner's budget in the total amount of $74,638 for FY 2017.
District 4 Commissioner Ann Jones Guider was the first -- but not the last -- of the commissioners who expressed varying degrees of concern about a request to double the coroner's budget so soon after taking office and the need for Godwin to have more time on the job.
Guider said she had no knowledge of having an elected official ever wanting to double her budget after two months in office.
"I have a problem with her coming to see us at the courthouse and wanting to ask for a raise two months into the job," Guider said. "A new employee does not come in and ask to double their salary. We have to look at the big picture and have the hard job of telling department heads and constitutional officers that we can't give them all the things they ask for."
Guider added, "We have to make the hard choices. This is our job and we have to question."
District 2 Commissioner Kelly Robinson said he agreed with Guider but in a different way.
"We control all of the money on the local level," said Robinson. "We respect the constitutional officers and we cannot tell them how to run their departments. It is important to support and monitor them, but we have to be careful how we render our judgments for another elected official."
District 3 Commissioner Mike Mulcare said that "winning an election does not infer knowledge of the job."
He said, "I would feel so much better about the judgment if the new coroner had gotten her feet wet for six months or so. My personal opinion on this is an issue we have to look at. I think the increase is on shaky ground."
Douglas County Finance Director Jennifer Hallman said she had been working with Godwin for over a month or so on the coroner's budget.
"She's had a lot of challenges to overcome and had questions," Hallman said. "She wants to restructure the department from years prior."
Both the coroner and deputy coroner can get their salaries by a per call and per transport basis, explained Hallmaan. The coroner's fee to come out on a call is $175 and $165 to transport a body.
Hallman said Godwin wanted to contain costs and have three deputy coroners and pay them a flat salary.
"This takes call fees --the unknown factor-- out," the finance director said.
Hallman reported there were 40 deaths and transports reported from January 2016 and 73 deaths, not including hospice, in January and February 2017.
"We talked about all these things going on at the coroner's office," said District 1 Commissioner Henry Mitchell. "If you take January and February alone, they would never make it with that (current) budget."
He said, "I do understand the need. The budget would be blown out. I didn't like it, but I get it. If you look at the numbers realistically, by the second quarter, the coroner's office would be in trouble."
Mulcare said, "There is a hole in the paperwork that the coroner needs to address. Rather than jumping the salary from $32,000 to $58,000, let's get six months, 12 months of job under your belt. It is too much too early without statistical information."
The coroner, who was not present during the discussion, arrived later in the meeting. Mulcare said Godwin's original request was for a $60,000 salary plus benefits and was compromised down to $58,000 plus benefits.
He told her the commissioners would be better served if the records were in place.
"It does seem high," Mulcare said. "To come forward to double your salary and budget doesn't sit right with me. I'd like to see us wait until after you get a little more experience."
Godwin responded, "It has noting to do with experience. It has to do with going out into the field."
She said, "You can't be a service to the public with a part-time job. I get a call getting ready for work in the morning and I have to go out. You never know when you have a death and have to be ready for the death."
"When I applied for it, it was a part-time job," Godwin said. "I'm working for the citizens and that is what I have to do."
Guider said, "I don't see this office as a full-time position and staying in the office 40 hours a week.
In other business, the Douglas County Board of Commissioner gave:
• Authorization to approve a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Agreement with Bedford Systems, LLC.
• Authorization to increase the County's contribution to the Teachers Retirement for Cooperative Extension employees and expend an additional $952.92 for this increase this year.
• Authorization to advertise for a public hearing to consider adding a new section to the Alcohol Ordinance for the purpose of issuing Temporary Event Alcohol Permits.
• Authorization to accept the Western Regional Traffic Enforcement Network Grant for the Sheriff's Office in the amount of $20,000.00 with no matching funds, amend the budget and authorize the Chairman to sign all related documents.
• Authorization to award a contract to Lichty Commercial Construction, Inc. for the construction of the Douglas County Administration Annex for a total price not to exceed $3,414,056.00 and authorize the Chairman to sign all related documents pending contract negotiations and final legal review.
• Authorization to approve a Change Order in the amount of $29,300.00 submitted by Spratlin & Son Construction for additional work performed at the new Douglas County Animal Shelter and authorize the Chairman to sign all related documents.
• Authorization to enter into a contract with Moreland Altobelli and Associates, Inc. for SPLOST Program Manager and authorize the Chairman to sign all documents subject to legal review.
• Authorization to approve a contract for Deputy Tax Commissioner for the Tax Department and authorize the Chairman to sign all related documents.
• Authorization to deny a claim for a property tax refund as recommended by the Board of Assessors and Tax Commissioner.