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County weighs employee raises, tourism tax
After four years without a pay increase, Glynn County employees may see a bigger paycheck beginning in December.

At least that was the consensus among county commissioners at Tuesday's non-voting workshop.

Orah Reed, the county's director of human resources, made a presentation to show how employee salaries compare with other counties. It showed management positions are 18.6 percent below market rates. Non-management and professional-level positions are 3.28 percent below market rates.

Reed said the county's turnover rate in the past three years is around 14 percent, with pay being one of the main reasons employees quit their jobs. The turnover rate is significantly higher in public safety, where 45 percent of the county's paramedics -- 11 of the 24 on staff -- have quit for higher paying jobs in other counties or the private sector since January.

"A lot of our voluntary separations are salary driven," Reed said.

Reed recommended a 3 percent pay adjustment for all county employees, which commissioners agreed was appropriate.

"I think we need to do a 3 percent raise and make it permanent," Commissioner Tom Sublett said. "Our turnover rate in public safety is getting a little risky. Our employees are struggling to keep up."

County Administrator Alan Ours said a 3 percent pay increase will cost the county about $614,000 for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. In subsequent years, it will cost the county about $998,000 a year.

County officials emphasized the pay adjustment is not a merit raise. But commissioners agreed a consultant should be hired to review pay, benefits and possibly begin annual merit raises.

"You've got to take care of your employees," Commissioner Bob Coleman said.

Commissioners also agreed in principle to fund one-third of the $18,000 needed to pay graduate students from the Savannah College of Art and Design for designing a major gateway into Glynn County. Students will focus on the stretch of U.S. 17 from Chapel Crossing Road to the Sidney Lanier Bridge.

The city of Brunswick and the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau will fund the other two-thirds of the cost.

Commissioner Mary Hunt expressed concern that the city and county will not follow through on recommendations.

"I'm afraid this will sit on a table for a couple of years because we don't have the money," she said.

But Commissioner Clyde Taylor said the study will be a template for the county to draft ordinances and building codes that will lead to improvements. He said business and property owners are expected to make some improvements on their own.

Commissioners also listened to a presentation about the county's bed tax by Scott McQuade, executive director of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

With an annual budget of $2 million for marketing, Glynn County ranked at or near the bottom in every category. McQuade estimated 1.7 to 2 million visitors a year contribute an estimated $850 million to the local economy. Some 23,000 jobs are dependent on tourism in the county.

In comparison, Charleston, S.C., has an annual marketing budget of $11 million.

"They're taking our customers from us," McQuade said.

Sublett asked why tourism officials haven't asked the county to raise the 5 percent bed tax.

McQuade said the question isn't about eventually raising the tax, but how much. The state allows bed taxes as high as 8 percent.

"I don't think we're getting an advantage competitively by not having a higher tax," Sublett said.

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