Can Macon-Bibb afford employee pay raises?

Most of the Macon-Bibb County Commission appears ready to approve an employee pay scale adjustment but the question remains whether the county can afford to pay workers more.

In Tuesday’s pre-commission meeting, County Manager Keith Moffett estimated the salary hikes could cost the county up $6 million extra each year.

“We need to know if we can make that commitment in next year’s budget,” Moffett told the commission.

Local leaders already project an additional $11 million in expenses in the Fiscal 2021 budget to meet bond repayment obligations and additional benefit costs for pre-consolidation retirement commitments.

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis is offering nearly $150,000 from commissary profits and confiscated funds to pay for a new study of other Georgia municipalities with the goal of bringing Macon-Bibb salaries competitively in line with other communities.

“I thought we had a pay scale study with consolidation,” Commissioner Valerie Wynn said. “I agree wholeheartedly that we need to move, but why spend another $150,000? I feel like we’re moving backward.”

Mayor Robert Reichert noted the county has 300 fewer employees since the last study was commissioned. Plus, the Georgia State Patrol was granted a pay raise since then which skewed the salary figures for sheriff’s offices in the state.

Sheriff Davis and Fire Chief Marvin Riggins are struggling to keep trained employees who are often lured to higher-paying communities.

Starting salaries for deputies are currently running about $9,000 less per year than the state average, according to commissioners. The county also stopped offering pensions to new hires as of this past summer.

Hiring an outside consultant would enable a non-biased third party to make recommendations for competitive salaries and benefit packages.

Salary adjustments will likely be recommended for about 100 deputies and 100 firefighters.

“We need to look at civilian employees, too,” Davis said. “You have IT workers and public works lagging behind.”

Commissioners agreed to further discuss authorizing a new study at their Committee of the Whole meeting next week.

Commissioner Joe Allen, a retired firefighter, warned against paying for a new study if commissioners are not willing to fund the pay hikes.

“Either we have the backbone to do this or don’t spend the money,” Allen said. “We need to make sure we’re in agreement, at least a majority of us, or we’re done.”

“We’ve got to do it,” Wynn said. “We’ve got to get salaries back in line. I’m concerned about us pushing it back and back.”

Commissioner Mallory Jones said he was initially against spending the money but believes public safety protection should be the priority.

“We’ve got to put our minds together to see where we’re going to cut. Nobody likes to talk about cuts,” Jones said. “If we don’t have a safe community we don’t have a community and I’m tired of seeing us on the list of high-crime communities.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at [email protected] or phone 478-301-2976.