Claxton is a quaint South Georgia town. Population ~2,300, the city is just 1.6 square miles. They have a fire department, a police department, offer water and trash services, and house a natural gas line that runs to Chatham County. And, of course, are home to Claxton Fruit Cake Co.
Property taxes in the city don’t generate all that much revenue, and while the natural gas line used to provide for grand expenditures – like the million dollar City Hall-, it has dwindled over the last five years. Because of that, revenues from the city have decreased.
Knowing all of that, should there be a single employee that takes home $95,121.20?
Gayle Durrence, who has been employed with the City of Claxton since October of 1973, serves as the City Administrator, the City Clerk, the Personnel Officer, the Building Inspector, the Treasurer, and the Public Works Director, according to Open Records Requests obtained on January 7, 2016. Ten percent of that $95k comes from administrative accounts, 40% from water and sewer accounts for her duties, and 50% of her income comes from the gas line account. A worthy question: Why is the City Administrator doubling as a Public Works Director when a) natural gas lines are a grey area under the law as to whether they are really public works, and b) when there is already a Gas Superintendent who oversees the department for a salary of $74,462 annually?
Mrs. Durrence is also the highest paid employee in the city. She makes $20,o00 more than the Police Chief and roughly $36,000 more than the Fire Chief. She says herself that she is on-call 24-hours a day and that’s why she is compensated so much, but the fire chief, the police officers, and the police chief do not see a spike in pay for those reasons.
She receives a travel expense reimbursement of $550 a month. That’s a tax-free bonus, essentially. When asked about the issue when picking up the open records request, Mrs. Durrence said the city does not provide her with a vehicle, like some city employees like the Fire Chief. Arguably, a fire chief is driving much more than an administrator who has a salaried desk job. He, and the police chief, also leave from their home to tend to City matters. Additionally, it is not an easy justification to claim that a $550 travel expense is allocated for a town less than two square miles. That means she drives 1,000+ work-related miles every month (considering the IRS compensation for mileage at $0.55/mile) in addition to the 35.5 hours a week she sits in the office. The taxpayers are footing the bill for likely double what any reasonable car payment would be and have been for years. (See photos below)
Also of interest are some of the reimbursements. In 2013, Gayle sold a chair to the city and received a $150 for it. Then, in 2015, she sold one table and six chairs for $225 and two chairs for a conference room for $300. Who approved that? Does anyone oversee the money she spends, like the nearly $500 on Christmas decorations she was reimbursed for?
In 2013 and 2014, Mrs. Gayle was also compensated $500 for municipal election superintendent roles, but in 2015 that went up to $600. Claxton chose not to outsource the role of superintendent to the Evans County Probate Judge who oversees Evans County elections, as well as those in Bellville, Daisy, and Hagan for cost-saving purposes.
CLICK PHOTOS TO ENLARGE
Excluding 1099 employees, the average salary in Claxton City government is $35,206.55. The city employs a billing clerk, a communications officer in every department, a cashier, and a payroll clerk, but somehow Mrs. Durrence is saddled -and then compensated- for seven positions? Is there not a conflict somewhere? At what point is the duplicative nature of the positions no longer a “new position” worthy of additional pay? Even by the own records request, which provides job descriptions for the Claxton City Clerk and the Claxton City Administrator, some roles are duplicated, like “preparing council meeting items,” “advises council on city operations and ordinances,” and “custodian of official records.”
The City of Claxton will begin their budget process for FY 2017 in April of 2016. It may be wise for the citizens of Claxton to consider attending not only the budget seminars, but also the city council meetings to address the great discrepancies in salaries among city employees.