Commissioner perks add up to $145,000 per year

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September 18, 2006

It's good work, if you can get it.

Trouble is, there are only 10 people who qualify for the job.

It's fairly common knowledge that Augusta commissioners get an annual salary of $12,000.

What you may not know is that part time job also comes with some big perks.

Are they necessary when the commission is asking others to cut back during these bad budget times?

It's a job that comes with perks like free gas for your personal car anytime you want, unlimited mobile minutes, two free badges to the Masters each year, and all-expenses-paid trips to conferences in places like Hawaii or Chicago.

They're all perennial privileges for Augusta commissioners.

"That's plenty for them, as a commissioner, for what they're doing," says Augusta resident Bill Reynolds.

Others say the perks and the pay aren't enough compensation for their service to the community.

"I don't think it matches up," says Commissioner Marion Williams. "I think I what I do weighs more than what I get paid to do."

But for a city staring down a $5 million hole with departments being asked to operate on a bare bones budget, are city leaders leading by example?

"In tight budget times, I think we all need to tighten our belts," says Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver.

But maybe not everyone is doing that. According to Augusta Fleet Management, commissioners are only budgeted for $100 per month on their Fuelman cards, but records show some are pumping double and triple that amount.

In July, Commissioner Andy Cheek nearly quadrupled the cap spending $372. The gas card is only to be used for city business...and Cheek has missed more meetings than any commissioner this year.

So we asked him why he's using the most gas.

"It's gone into service of the people," Cheek responded.

Marion Williams also consistently goes over the $100 limit.

"My car is my office," he told News 12. "I work seven days a week since they day I got elected. I have not stopped."

"I don't think anyone should get gas," says Augusta resident James Cobb, "because I've never had one to come to my house, and I've called them."

Fleet Management director Ron Crowden says he's sent letters telling commissioners they're spending too much gas, but says that's all he can do because commissioners are his bosses and make their own rules.

"It is a 'police yourself' policy for the commissioners," he told News 12.

City cell phones are also only to be used for city business, but commissioners are already over their yearly budget. The two biggest users are Betty Beard and Marion Williams.

In fact, records show that taxpayers are paying for Beard to have two phones.

She did not like it when we asked her about it.

"You put someone in Betty Beard's place who can do a better job," she said.

She admits she makes personal calls on her city phone, but says she doesn't see the big deal.

"I think there's a lot of puff and a lot of fluff you know, a lot of exaggeration."

There are some commissioners who don't take advantage of the perks. Jerry Brigham, Joe Bowles, and Mayor Copenhaver have either turned in or never used their phones...and all three say that with the apparent abuse of some per, they are in favor of putting a limit on them.

"Everybody's financial situation is different," Copenhaver said. "I would be in favor of putting limits on it though."

And when you add it all up, if commissioners went without the phones, the gas, travel, and retreats for one year, it would save nearly $145,000 of your tax dollars.

For some, it's a small change for a city millions in the hole. For others, it's a start...and a sacrifice.

Commissioners meet tomorrow, and they'll be discussing placing limits on travel.

Limits are really is the big issue here. News 12 asked the fleet manager what would happen if commissioners currently using $400 in gas started using $500, $600, or $700. He says there is nothing he can do because commissioners make their own rules.