Columbia County officials took the next step Tuesday toward raising the base pay for the sheriff, a move that will make Clay Whittle the county’s highest-paid elected official.
County commissioners unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance to create the raise, with final approval expected in two weeks at the commission’s next meeting.
County Administrator Scott Johnson said he recently discovered that other elected officials several years ago had received a state-legislated increase in their base pay, but the sheriff’s office had been left out.
“We realized the compensation for the sheriff was lower that some other elected officials,” particularly the tax commissioner, clerk of court and probate judge, Johnson said. “We felt like it was an equity issue for the sheriff.”
If the ordinance receives final approval, Whittle’s pay will rise to $135,760 a year, which is $163 a year more than Tax Commissioner Kay Allen.
“It was a disservice to him that it was not caught before,” commission Chairman Ron Cross said.
Drawing laughter from the audience, Cross said he wanted to make it clear that “this has no similarity to what is going on in Richmond County,” where newly elected Sheriff Richard Roundtree has asked the Augusta Commission for a raise. The commission approved his request Tuesday.
Whittle didn’t ask for the raise, but instead was told about the discrepancy when it was discovered, Johnson said.
In other action:
• The commission approved paying nearly $200,000 to purchase more than a dozen parcels of various sizes for rights of way ranging from $250 to $31,733. The parcels, along Washington Road, are being purchased in advance of the road’s planned widening.
Sales tax funding will be used to widen Washington Road from Gibbs Road to William Few Parkway, an estimated $40 million project.
• Commissioners recognized Veronica Biggs, a seven-year employee of the Building Standards Department, as the county’s Employee of the Month for February.
• New fees were approved for rentals of county venues, including the Lady Antebellum Pavilion and Savannah Rapids. For the first time, groups using Savannah Rapids Park to stage fundraising footraces will be charged $100.
The fee schedule adds the newly built Mill House at Savannah Rapids, which has a small room available for meetings. The facility also includes restrooms accessible from the park, and a downstairs area that will be leased to a vendor for bicycle rentals.