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Editorial: Board volunteers are worth a few dollars more
Raising pay a bit for Hall citizens’ panels won’t cost much and may keep good people on them
Hall County Government Center

Want more evidence of anti-government sentiment among the populace? Check out the reaction to a proposal to offer a higher stipend to citizens who serve on some of Hall County’s public boards.

The proposal to boost pay for those who serve in these 23 part-time positions to $125 per meeting was approved Tuesday by Hall County commissioners. The total cost is expected to be about $22,740 per year, raising the budget for these positions from $34,760 to $57,500. The stipends offered would bring Hall more in line with that of similar positions in neighboring counties like Dawson, Gwinnett and Forsyth.

It’s a modest cost, and likely will encourage those who now serve to stay on board and lure others in the future. These positions on the Board of Equalization, Planning Commission and Board of Elections aren’t high profile but are important. Not everyone has business before all of these panels, but those who do benefit from a group of well-informed, thoughtful community members who give their time and effort to serve. 

Yet in today’s hyper-charged climate opposed to governments spending money on anything, even giving these folks a few more dollars for their trouble raises the hackles of some. Facebook comments to The Times’ story earlier this week drew rebukes from many who don’t believe board members rate a pay hike, many instead urging the county to raise pay for teachers or public safety workers. Some believe these folks shouldn’t be compensated at all for their time.

We can all agree that those who teach our kids and keep us safe deserve better pay; raising teacher salaries statewide was a key topic Thursday at the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast with state legislators. But connecting that with board member pay is confusing apples and oranges, or more specifically, pennies and dollars.

Those who serve on county boards don’t get salaries but are paid by the meeting for their time. The current pay is $70-$80 per meeting on various boards, now raised to $125 per meeting for all.

But let’s focus on that total increase of $22,740. That alone wouldn’t provide salary and benefits for one full-time paid position for the county in any department at entry level, much less provide much in the way of raises for employees. While it may seem a sizable figure in one person’s pocket, it’s a pittance when taken from a total county budget of more than $100 million. For instance, if that same total were distributed among Hall County’s more than 1,600 teachers, it would amount to about $14 each, which after taxes would leave about enough for a modest fast-food lunch.

Even the total paid for all board members, $57,500, wouldn’t go very far in raising pay of other key county workers. Doing so involves real money and a more complex discussion of how to pay for it. It’s a discussion worth having, but a totally separate issue.

The people who serve on these boards do so willingly; many are business owners, pastors or have other occupations. The pay offered is only a bit of compensation for the time they provide. What’s it worth for someone to leave their family for a night to hash out squabbles over rezonings or to take time away from their jobs to make sure voting laws are followed? 

Without that small incentive, many might pass or serve only for a short period, and leave recruiting new members as a time-consuming chore. What we’d likely end up with are citizen boards staffed only by retirees, the very wealthy or those with a vested interest in the topics the boards handle. Offering a bit of financial incentive, at a relatively small cost, helps keep the boards diverse and staffed by engaged members from various sectors of the community.

It’s understandable, to a point, why many are concerned about how much they invest in government, particularly with the disappointing results from Washington’s federal representatives. But let’s not confuse a “do-nothing” Congress with the work of our neighbors who are willing to take on thankless and necessary tasks for a small stipend. Giving them a little bit more won’t bust any budgets and merely shows a bit of appreciation for their efforts.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.


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