Open for business: Dougherty Commission chair expects raises to attract quality workers

2022-07-23 01:54:48 By : Mr. Jason Zhang

Jul. 21—ALBANY — The good news is Dougherty County workers are getting a pay raise. The bad news is that it will mean a property tax increase for taxpayers.

During a Thursday news conference, Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas linked the two issues and noted that the commission has not revisited either in years. He said he expects the pay increases will bring in an influx of job applicants to fill positions.

The county will hold a job fair from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday at the the Government Center, located at 222 Pine Ave.

"Dougherty County is now open for business," he said. "We are looking for the best, the brightest and hardest-working (to come) where people know they will be appreciated, they will be adequately trained and will be paid a better wage than anybody in any other county in the area.

"There is an intersection sometimes between taxes and pay. This time the needs of our employees trumped."

At the time the chairman spoke, the county was 135 short of the 650 who would be on the job if the county were fully staffed. Of those, 52 are at the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office, which currently is down 47 jailers and five deputies at the county's Judicial Building.

Commissioners approved the pay increase earlier this month with the approval of a pay scale developed by an outside consultant, with raises set to go into effect on Oct. 1. On Monday they will tackle the job of finding the little more than $4 million needed to pay for the outlays.

Cohilas defended the county's financial stewardship, saying Dougherty County probably gets the most value out of each dollar spent than any in Georgia, as well as the need for recognizing employees' dedication and hard work.

"I remember back in 2008, 2009, back when we went through the financial crisis, that we were literally furloughing employees," he said. "We still got up every morning and went to work despite the fact we were doing it for free. We haven't (done) furloughs again, but we may as well have because it has been unconscionable what we have been paying" our employees.

The last time the county initiated a pay scale to adjust salaries was 22 years ago, he said. In addition to the financial crisis that caused belt-tightening, during that time employees have worked through four presidentially declared disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I want everyone to understand we have a dedicated group of employees in this county who have worked through crisis after crisis, disasters and COVID without (receiving) a livable wage," Cohilas said.

The pay scale will increase salaries based on employee job position and years of employment. It will increase the starting salary for the lowest paid from $10 to $13 an hour.

The minimum wage increase and pay scale will put salaries in Dougherty County at the top in the region and should bring an influx of people seeking jobs, including some former employees who left to work elsewhere for better pay, Cohilas said.

"Instead of losing the best, we will be attracting the best," he said. "Instead of attracting the mediocre, we will be attracting the most talented. If it were up to me, I'd give them more. I'm very thankful to my commissioners and our employees for their support."

Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul echoed Cohilas' statement about the significance of the pay raises.

"This has been one of the best moments for us, too," he said during an interview following the news conference. "We definitely rode the backs of the employees for several years. We just realize the services they provide are needed, and they need to take care of them."

The commission's Finance Committee will meet at 8 a.m. Monday to discuss the tax issue and will make a recommendation on a millage rate hike to the full board during the meeting at 10 a.m., Ed Newsome, who chairs the Finance Committee, said.

"I think it was absolutely the best thing we could have done," he said of the raises. "I've said this before, but our employees are our best asset. It's critical. We can't afford to lose public safety. We can't afford to lose police."

Most employees will receive a pay increase this year of at least 2.5 percent, County Administrator Michael McCoy said. In addition, all employees will receive a $1,000 lump sum distribution in December.

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