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Commission considers boostings members' pay

LAWRENCEVILLE - After years of asking the Legislature to boost the salaries of county commissioners, Gwinnett's board members may take the matter into their own hands.

But a week after controversial cuts to the county budget, the idea of raise doesn't sit well with Chairman Charles Bannister.

"If we don't have enough money for our budget, then I don't know if we can do this," said Bannister, still reeling from $6 million in cuts proposed by commissioners as the board was voting on the 2007 budget. "It just sends the wrong message."

Legal advertisements have run in the Gwinnett Daily Post about the suggested salary increases, which would be considered later this month.

The proposal is to boost the full-time chairman's salary from $50,000 to $99,000 and the wages of part-time commissioners from $12,500 to $29,800. The move would have an impact of $151,116 on the 2009 budget, when the raise would become effective.

Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who helped prepare the budget reductions, said he believes the raises are a needed tool to bring more competition to elections.

"Folks ought to be able to run for commission who aren't involved in real estate, an attorney or retired," said Beaudreau, who is a copier salesman.

"It's awfully hard to manage a job and duties as a commissioner," he said. "The salary is an issue we need to look at seriously."

Bannister, who was a member of the General Assembly for more than a decade before he became chairman, said he agrees that a higher salary would help draw more candidates.

But he doesn't believe the timing is right for such a move.

"It's something we can wait on again," he said.

Salaries for the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners hasn't been raised since 1989, and the county's rates are well below those of nearby jurisdictions.

In 2001, the General Assembly passed a measure allowing the board to set its own salaries, but the local delegation has declined to give commissioners a boost. During the last legislative session, the delegation agreed to pay raises for school board members.