Controversy arises after city leaders get automatic raises, employees do not

Published: Nov. 8, 2014 at 4:29 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2014 at 4:25 PM EST
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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - It was just announced this week that elected officials in Columbus and Muscogee County are receiving automatic salary increases. But city workers who are unhappy about recent changes in their benefits due to lack of funds think the timing couldn't be worse.

Columbus City Council voted Tuesday, Nov. 4 to approve about $40,000 worth of collective raises for themselves and other elected officials in the region.

Some of the biggest raises went to the tax commissioner and the superior court clerk, who are receiving nine percent increases on top of their six figure salaries.

City councilman Gary Allen explained Georgia state law forces elected officials to accept these raises and they have no say in the matter.

This is all happening now because Columbus recently reached a benchmark when the city's population rose above 200,000 people that pushed elected officials into a new bracket of pay grades.

Randy Robertson of the Fraternal Order of Police is wondering why the same considerations don't apply to everyone.

"It seems that the people being left out of the equation are all the other city employees who are also impacted by that population growth," Robertson said.

The raises are part of an unfunded mandate, which means the state is ordering cities and counties to pay the salaries based on population whether they have the money or not.

The law is meant to keep all Georgia politicians playing by the same rules, but in a place like Columbus, where some employees have higher health insurance premiums than they did three years ago, they're feeling left out.

Robertson says he would like to see an open dialogue in the future involving the mayor and the four major employee groups - law enforcement, firefighters, general city workers, and retired workers...

"...and let's all come up with a solution that is beneficial to the city employees and the tax payers of Muscogee County."

Mayor Tomlinson says the state's reasoning for regulating these raises is to keep elected officials from having control over their own pay. It keeps them from giving themselves a million dollar increase instead of three percent.

Tomlinson added that she is in constant conversation with employees about how to find a better solution for their compensation.

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