The new county attorney's salary and compensation were discussed by the board of commissioners during last week's work session.
The newly appointed attorney, Lynn Frey, was hired on Feb. 3 and started work on Feb. 6 with a proposed salary of the $85,000.
During the discussion, the commissioners came to the conclusion that as a salaried employee and not a contract employee, Frey's compensation did not need to be voted on by the commission.
Commission Chair Billy Thurmond said that he understood that legally it was not required for Frey's salary to be decided out in the open, but that he wanted the public to know how much he would be paid.
"Primarily, I wanted to make sure that these people out here heard what the compensation was going to be and that we were presenting that openly so that everybody understood and that we were communicating with the people, because I think that's what they want," Thurmond said. "Legally no, we do not have to vote because under county policy...the county manager has authority over individual salaries."
There is no consideration of the county attorney salary or compensation on the agenda for Thursday's voting session.
County Manager David Headley came up with the salary that Frey will be receiving based on an analysis of comparable counties and the rate they pay their attorneys.
Frey is currently on a six-month probationary period, at the end of which his salary will increase to $90,000 a year.
This salary is a big step down from what Frey was paid as the city attorney for Brunswick, a job he held for more than 13 years.
Frey was paid an annual salary of approximately $146,000 when he resigned from his job as Brunswick city attorney in 2011. He was paid $70.35 an hour, utilized a city vehicle and received benefits.
Frey was also paid $81,350 in severance when his position was eliminated in October 2011.
At his current salary, Frey is being paid 42 percent less than what he used to be paid, and at $90,000 a year will be paid 38.5 percent less than what he used to be paid.
Frey was appointed county attorney by the board at its Feb. 2 voting session. Commissioners Jimmy Hamby, district 3, Sharon Fausett, district 1, and Julie Hughes Nix, district 4, all voted to appoint Frey.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines voted against the motion to appoint Frey.
"I did not intend to vote against Frey, I think he was the most qualified of the candidates we interviewed," Gaines said on Friday. "But I wish I had split up the motion to say that I was against hiring in-house counsel without looking at other options. I think we should have looked at law firms as well as individuals, and we didn't consider that before the motion was made."
It's still up in the air as to whether hiring an in-house attorney will really save the county any money.
Currently, the county is paying both Frey and former County Attorney Joey Homans, who will continue to represent the county in legal matters until March 1.
No longer under contract as the appointed county attorney, Homans is charging the county $225 an hour, as opposed to the $160 an hour he charged in 2016.
Homans did not attend the work session, and Frey attended as the acting county attorney.
Commissioners push for new fire station
Also during the Feb. 9 work session, Public Works Director David McKee updated the board members on SPLOST VI collections and heard their thoughts on plans for money that is yet to be collected.
SPLOST VI collections began in July 2015 and over the next six years, $46,000,000 will be collected. So far, $9,100,000 has been collected and allocated to county projects, McKee said.
Proposed phase two projects include road rehabilitation for Kelly Bridge Road, Tanner Road and Steve Tate Highway; equipment purchases, pool house demolition and construction at Veterans Memorial Park, another ambulance purchase, 12 more sheriff's office vehicles and a public works facility.
High insurance premiums in the western part of Dawson County have two commissioners requesting a ninth fire station be a priority over the public works facility, which McKee said would be built on land that the county already owns near the transfer station.
Commissioner Nix asked that McKee consider a fire station for District 1, which he said had not been part of discussions for phase two of SPLOST VI projects.
"I know that public works is all excited about the facility, and I am too, but I really think that fire station really needs to be addressed for district 1," Nix said.
Fausett asked if any land had been purchased for a ninth fire station.
Emergency Services Chief Lanier Swafford said that a fire station was talked about as a phase three project, and that no land had been purchased. He did say that if a fire station were to be built, it would be located in the area of Duck Thurmond and Sweetwater Juno roads.
Completed SPLOST VI projects are the Dawson Forest Road reconstruction, new equipment including a skid steer and two trailers, parks and rec field rehabilitation, Rock Creek Park LED soccer lights, firetruck debt payoff and purchase, purchase of two ambulances and 12 new vehicles for the sheriff's office.
County sees 100 percent turnover in 6 years
Commissioners also heard the outcome of their 2016 salary study during the work session.
The study was an investment for the county to help determine if wages were up to industry standards, and is an update to one that the Archer Company did for the county in 2014.
According to Chip King, regional director for the Archer Company, the 2014 study was completed, but with limited implementation by county management at the time. He said the county did not work transparently to make changes indicated by the salary study and received no input from department heads. The new study was a way to address that.
King also said that the county has seen over a 100 percent turnover rate since Jan. 1, 2011. This does not include elected officials, and does include sheriff's office employees.
This is an alarming statistic for a salary analyst like King.
"One hundred percent of turnover in such a short period of time is absolutely unprecedented and unheard of," King said. "I've been doing this work for 20 years and I've never stood before a board of commissioners facing down turnover at those kind of percentages at all ... I don't think I believed the turnover statistics when I first heard them."
According to Danielle Yarbrough, county clerk, in 2016 the county lost 84 employees out of 434 total, or 19 percent of their workforce.
In addition, the county has, according to Thurmond, spent over a million dollars in recruitment and retraining due to the large turnover.
King said that bringing employee salaries up to a level that could help the county compete with neighboring counties could be the solution needed to help retain employees.
The commission at Thursday's voting session could decide to adopt the pay plan, after which there would be an implementation process.
During that process, the county could decide whether to give an across-the-board increase, bring all of the salaries up to minimum, look at salaries on a case-by-case basis for raises or a combination.