Because of a 2-1 vote of the three members present Tuesday evening, Statesboro City Council members will receive a pay raise in January that will be the first for council members in 18 years.
Although increasing the current pay rates by roughly 45%, the raises for the council members and mayor pro tempore will not lift any of their salaries to full-time levels. The salary for regular district council members will rise from $7,575 a year to $11,000, and the salary for mayor pro tem will increase from $9,342 to $13,500. But there will be no increase for the mayor’s $18,500 salary, since Mayor Jonathan McCollar previously asked that the mayor’s pay be left the same, and council members honored that in his absence Tuesday.
With District 1 Councilmember Phil Boyum and District 2 Councilmember Paulette Chavers also away, the council had a three-member minimum quorum. Mayor Pro Tem Shari Barr, who conducted the meeting, noted that she retained her voting ability as the District 5 member. The votes on all other actions Tuesday evening were 3-0.
The council had voted 3-2 on June 20, when all members were present, to advertise for the increase in salaries, following a procedure set by state law. The notices placed in the Statesboro Herald, as the county legal organ, advertised the Tuesday, July 18, council meeting as the time for the public hearing on the raise.
No members of the public spoke for or against the raise when Barr called for this as part of the hearing.
Council members again disagreed on the raise, but the sides shifted. Barr, who along with Boyum had voted “nay” on June 20 against starting the process, ended up seconding District 3 Councilmember Venus Mack’s motion Tuesday to approve the raises. However, District 4 Councilmember John Riggs, who had joined Chavers and Mack in voting “aye” in June to advertise for the raises, voted against the raise resolution in the final decision.
Riggs, who is in the middle of a term and wouldn’t have to stand for re-election until 2025, began his comments Tuesday by saying his understanding was he wouldn’t get the raise until his next term. But City Attorney Cain Smith corrected him by saying that the raises would go to all council members, the only requirement being that they take effect after this year’s city election.
“The bookkeeping on it, staggered like that, is impossible. The state Legislature knows that. …,” Smith said. “The rate of pay would change for all council members and mayor pro tem on Jan. 2.”
In fact, City Manager Charles Penny had noted at the June meeting that the raise would be for all the council members, including those not up for election this cycle.
Barr, Chavers and Mack’s seats are up for election in their districts this fall to four-year terms. The role of mayor pro tem is assigned to one of the members every two years by a vote of the members.
“I don’t want you guys to look at it as this is an ‘us’ thing,” Mack said, asking the other members to support the raises. “This is something that needs to be done. It has not been updated since 2004. We have made so many changes and updated so many ordinances since we’ve been in this organization. This is just one more thing that needs to be updated.”
The total cost of the raises, combined, will be $17,235 a year, as indicated in a memo from Smith to the council members.
Barr expressed mixed feelings.
“I agree with Ms. Mack Hall that we need to be up-to-date, we need to be paid in alignment with the other cities our size around us and we haven’t had a raise in 20 years,” she said. “I think it’s justified.”
But Barr, who at the previous meeting had said she would have been more comfortable with the 33% raise suggested in a staff memo, again said she would have preferred “a smaller increase in this time of economic uncertainty.” Mack’s 45% proposal was based on a calculation of total inflation over the past 20 years.
Barr also said she had a “second concern,” that the pay would be increased for whoever is elected as a City Council member and whoever is chosen as mayor, but not for the mayor, based only on the current mayor’s request.
“But as Venus was saying, it’s not only about him, it’s about whoever holds that position,” Barr said.
This led to some discussion of a delay in the vote to consider adding a mayoral raise. That would have required immediate action to initiate the revised proposal, advertising it anew for three consecutive weeks and voting at the Aug. 15 council meeting, just six days prior to the start of qualifying for the November election, Smith said.
A separate action to increase the mayor’s pay remains possible, but if it occurred after this year’s qualifying it wouldn’t take effect until the next mayoral term, beginning in 2026.
“I can’t give myself a raise,” Riggs said. “I’m sorry, I’ll have to vote against it. I thought I wouldn’t receive it unless I was re-elected. … I’ll accept the money, but I can’t vote for it.”
Barr agreed to second Mack’s motion to approve the raises resolution. They voted for it, and Riggs voted against it.
In a staff memo in June, the mayor and council were supplied a 2022 Georgia Department of Community Affairs survey of city elected officials’ salaries. Statesboro wasn’t actually included, but its population of about 34,000 would place it among the “Group B” cities in the survey.
Examples from that group include Canton and Chamblee, with council member salaries of $12,000, Douglasville with $12,900, East Point with $16,000, but also Dalton with $6,000, Rome with $8,400, LaGrange with $9,600 a year, and Carrolton, $600 not per year but per “occurrence.”