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Guyton Budget Proposal Accounts for Illegal Salary Increase for Council Members

The proposed FY 2021 budget for the City of Guyton accounts for a pay raise for all elected officials, a move in conflict with state law and a vote by council which dictates the increase is only supposed to apply to two of the four council members and the mayor.

The proposed FY 2021 budget for the City of Guyton accounts for a pay raise for all elected officials, a move in conflict with state law and a vote by council which dictates the increase is only supposed to apply to two of the four council members and the mayor.

Council | City of Guyton

Councilman Michael Johnson

Guyton city council members agreed in 2018 to raise council members’ pay from $200 to $300 a month and the mayor’s pay from $300 to $400 a month. Council was told by then-city attorney Ray Smith that this would require a staggering of salaries until all seats had cycled through an election in accordance with OCGA 36-35-4. The statute prohibits elected officials from raising their own salary during the current term and requires any increase to begin in the next term for each respective seat.  

Council could have opted to approve the raise with an effective date of January 1, 2022 to avoid both staggering salaries and breaching the prohibition of raising the salary for a sitting elected official, but chose not to do so and in 2019, Councilman Michael Johnson unsuccessfully attempted to have the pay raise take effect immediately. 

Now, as the city mulls the budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, it appears that Johnson is one of two council members who still is not eligible to receive the salary increase.

Council | City of Guyton

Councilman Joseph Lee

In the City of Guyton, a pay raise approved in 2018 would apply to the seats held by council members Hersula Pelote and Marshall Reiser as well as Mayor Russ Deen – each of whom were elected in November 2019. Council members Joseph Lee and Michael Johnson must wait until after the next municipal election in November 2021 for the pay raise and the swearing in for a new term – or in the budget for FY 2023, which would begin July 1, 2022. Alternatively, Council could appropriate funds for the salary increase to begin upon the swearing in for the new terms of the other two council seats, but that would still be in the budget for FY 2022 and begin in January 2022, not FY 2021.

In FY 2020, council salaries were set at $200 per month for four council members for a total of $9,600 annually plus $300 per month for the mayor, totaling $13,200. (It is not denoted on any budget document, but if the city factored in the $100 per month per seat salary increase for 2 council seats and the mayor beginning in January 2020 (after the new officials were sworn in), that would add $300 per month for six months to the FY 2020 budget for a $1,800 increase. It is not clear why the budget document reflects $16,200 for FY 2020 salaries and $6,600 for actual FY 2020 salaries when the salaries as laid out by ordinance and the Charter would total $15,000)

The budget proposal for FY 2021 accounts for $300 per month for 4 council members for a total of $14,400 and $400 per month for the mayor, adding $4,800, for an annual total of $19,200.

The correct math should include instead be:

$300 per month for Pelote and Reiser $7,200 annually +
$200 per month for Lee and Johnson $4,800 annually +
$400 per month for Mayor Deen $4,800 annually

Totaling: $16,800

Mayor | City of Guyton

Mayor Russ Deen

The $2,400 difference – as well as the payroll tax adjustment, while minuscule in the scheme of the total budget, is a matter of the city’s desire to be in compliance with state law. 

The Georgia Municipal Association, which is a lobbying organization that advocates for city officials, holds that the pay raise can take effect upon the swearing in of half the council. As the law is written, however and even acknowledged on the GMA website, the limitation does effectively institute staggered salaries for two years or, as an alternative, no city official in such a municipality would have been able to receive the salary increase until there had been a complete turnover on the council.

The Georgia Attorney General offered a different opinion in 1980 in conflict with the law as written, saying half of the council was sufficient, but the matter has not been challenged in a court of law in Georgia.

From the GMA website: [Story continues below]

The city budget is the responsibility of Mayor Russ Deen according to Section 2.29(4), who is charged by ordinance with drafting and submitting a budget proposal for consideration by council members.

This is the second snafu of for the city’s FY 2021 budget process. Earlier this week, city leaders had to cancel a special-called meeting initially set for budget approval after AllOnGeorgia reported that city officials had not met the standard for advertisement and public hearings as required by law.

Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

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    Future

    July 14, 2020 at 5:00 pm

    Garden

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