The $28,500 in bonuses handed out to nine employees in the Douglas County Tax Commissioner’s Office came from a special fund no other county department gets, a county commissioner said Friday.
District 4 Commissioner Ann Jones Guider raised the issue after a Fox 5 report Monday showed that Tax Commissioner Greg Baker gave bonuses to nine employees in his office just a few months after the BOC voted to raise the tax rate on property owners 27.8% to cover a budget shortfall.
District 1 Commissioner Henry Mitchell told the Sentinel earlier this week Baker had paid the bonuses — which ranged from $1,000 to $4,000 for eight employees and included a $7,000 bonus for chief deputy tax commissioner Sharon Jackson — out of money he personally receives from the cities of Douglasville and Villa Rica for collecting their taxes.
But Guider said the money Baker was using actually came from a special discretionary fund Baker has received every year since he was elected in 2016. Guider said Baker asked for and received $200,000 in discretionary funds in 2017 and received $150,000 in discretionary funds in the 2018-2020 county budgets. Guider said the BOC doesn’t give anyone else but the tax commissioner discretionary funds, and she added that she has opposed giving the funds to Baker every year.
“I was talking to ACCG one time, which is the county commissioners association, and I said, ‘Have you ever heard of giving discretionary funds to elected officials’ and they laughed at me,” Guider said.
Guider noted that the sheriff and district attorney receive funds from drug forfeitures and that state law regulates how those funds can be spent.
However, she said that once the BOC votes to give an elected official like Baker funds, “we can’t say what he spends it on.”
The Fox 5 report revealed that County Administrator Mark Teal emailed Commission Chairman Romona Jackson Jones, asking, “Do you want us to approve these bonuses when all other employees had to take furloughs?”
Teal later emailed the county human resources department, writing “per direction from Madam Chair a few minutes ago via phone conversation, the Tax Commissioner is a Constitutional Officer and can provide bonuses for his employees if he has funds available within his budget.”
Guider said there would have been no reason for Baker to seek approval from the BOC to issue the bonuses if the money was out of his own pocket as Mitchell had previously said.
Baker told the Sentinel earlier this week some of his employees are working six and seven days a week and that those are the employees he rewarded.
“I’m going to take care of my own people,” Baker said. “At the end of the year, I’ll see what I have left in my budget that I give people. That’s what I do. And that’s what they should have asked every department to do as far as I’m concerned.”
The Fox 5 report also noted that several employees in Baker’s office haven’t taken the five furlough days required of most county employees this year.
Baker told the Sentinel that his employees will take furlough days, but that it’s “just a matter of when” because his office is now processing property tax payments that were due on Nov. 15.
Baker acknowledged in the TV report that his employees will not likely be able to take all five furlough days that other county employees were forced to take by the end of year.
The BOC is set to hold its first hearing on a $98.2 million 2021 budget on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Guider said that proposed 2021 budget currently does not have the $150,000 discretionary fund for Baker included. But she said Baker is asking for those funds to be included and that they could wind up in the budget before it is adopted Dec. 15.
She said there are 8.25% across the board cuts included in the 2021 budget to make up for what is anticipated to be another lean year due to the pandemic.
She said the county’s reserve fund was being reduced by $1.2 million, which is the amount of a shortage Baker’s office recently informed the BOC about that was blamed on “system errors.”
The first hearing on the 2021 county budget will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 1 via Microsoft TEAMS. The live hearing will be broadcasted at https://Douglascounty.viebit.com. Citizens may register to speak at the public hearing via Microsoft Teams with County Clerk Lisa Watson at email@example.com or by voicemail at 770-920-7416 or citizens may call in at 229-302-4628, Conference ID 764379277#. The 2021 budget is scheduled to be adopted Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. via Microsoft TEAMS.