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Dawson County’s Board of Commissioners just passed a cost-of-living increase for county employees. Here’s what to expect.
COLA increase
BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond, left, listens as District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield, right, speaks in support of cost-of-living salary increases for county staff at the board’s Sept. 1 work session. - photo by Julia Hansen

When talking about staff salaries, members on the Board of Commissioners got right to the heart of the matter during discussions before their Thursday vote. 

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“They can cut back on stuff they need as far as vehicles, equipment, desks or computers,” District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield said about departments. “If we don’t take care of our people, we won't need those items, because we're not going to have anybody sitting there.”

On Sept. 1, the BOC voted 3-0 to approve a 5% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) effective the next pay period for all staff, meaning full time, part time, supplementary and probationary employees. 

This salary increase will come out of the general fund balance and be implemented retroactive to the beginning of the Sept. 3 pay period, checks for which will be issued on Sept. 23. 

Due to a new Georgia law going into effect Jan. 1, 2023, elected officials will receive a pay increase of $5,000. That amount will have to come out of Dawson County’s fund balance, too. As part of the board’s vote, the officials who would get the $5,000 will not receive the COLA.

BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond said Thursday’s measure for the COLA increases was “in an effort to try to keep and maintain the staff we have and make their lives livable.” 

Last fall as part of the FY2022 budget, the board approved dollar-per-hour increases for the part and full-time employees who hadn’t previously gotten a raise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Thurmond shared numbers from HR estimating that that raise was probably about 4%, so a 5% adjustment would balance out with inflation. 

County commissioners have discussed the impact of inflation and the idea of a cost-of-living salary increase during previous BOC meetings. Multiple county department heads requested similar pay bumps for their offices during their budget hearings the last week of August.

The COLA vote required a change to policy in the Dawson County Employee Handbook to include probationary employees in the salary raises, too. 

Instead of employees having to complete their six-month probationary period and one year of service, they will retroactively receive the COLA increase for their time with the county upon completing the probationary period. 

Now, any COLA adjustment for salaries would be applied “only to those employees specified by the Board of Commissioners,” said county attorney Angela Davis. 

“Speaking of the longevity…one reason we’re bringing the salaries up is to try to keep people. I’d hate not to give it to them and they turn around and quit us before they’ve even been here six months,” Satterfield said. 

“It’s not something typically done in as quick of a fashion, but I understand why there’s a reason to do it,” Davis said of the handbook change. “These are sort of unprecedented inflationary times.” 

Satterfield also said that while other county officials all track where money goes, “it’s our employees” that saved the money put back into the fund balance last year by watching their offices’ spending. 

“We’ve got to retain what we’ve got,” Satterfield added. “If we wait too long, we’re going to be right back in the shape that we were in when we did the [2020] pay study. Even though we did a pay study, I don’t think we went all the way to the top…because once we’d implemented the pay study, we were behind about 5% then with inflation going up.” 

Satterfield reiterated his preference to see a county-wide system for merit increases, which has been discussed at previous BOC meetings. He also suggested other anniversary and/or longevity increases.

Thurmond clarified that he will be presenting a number for merit increase funds during the upcoming FY2023 budget hearings. 

Likewise, Thurmond recommended that a committee be organized to look at potentially updating Dawson County’s benefits package.

“We have to be competitive all the way around, not just in dollars but in other areas as well,” Thurmond said. 

The BOC Chairman talked about the need for full teams in each department, elaborating that the county has “got to have bodies to get stuff done.” 

“We’ve talked about it over and over again,” Thurmond said. “There’s really no need to open up new positions if you can't fill the ones you already have.”

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold a presentation on its FY2023 budget as a whole on Oct. 6, followed by a series of required hearings on Oct. 20 and Nov. 3.