State superior court judge salaries

MARIETTA — Cobb Superior Court judges earn more than their colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court, who review their decisions. Nevertheless, Cobb County commissioners voted Tuesday to use county money to bump their annual salaries and that of the county’s district attorney.

The state pays the majority of the salaries of Cobb’s Superior Court judges and district attorney. In the state’s most populous areas, certain elected officials also receive a county-funded supplement due to their higher caseloads.

At issue before commissioners Tuesday was whether to apply the 4% raise they had given county employees this summer to the state’s portion of the judges’ and district attorney’s salaries.

Commissioners disagreed whether the 4% raise they had given all of the county’s employees this year should apply to judges’ county-financed supplement or their entire salaries, the majority of which still comes from the state.

After a vote of 3-2, with Commissioners Bob Ott and Keli Gambrill opposed, the commission opted to apply the 4% raise on the judges’ and DA’s entire salary.

Superior Court judges in Cobb County will now earn $216,410. Their supplement will increase from about $76,000 to about $84,000. District Attorney Joyette Holmes’ salary supplement was not immediately available Tuesday.

“Yes the Superior Court judges should get a raise, but the state should take responsibility for a state constitutional officer,” said Ott. “What they’re doing is they’re passing down to the citizens in Cobb (who) have to cover the cost because they’re not willing to give the raise.”

He added that the county should “absolutely” cover the cost of a 4% raise on the judges’ county supplement.

Tom Charron, Cobb Superior Court administrator, said giving Superior Court judges a raise on their full salary was a matter of “parity” with lower court judges.

Judges in the lower courts are county employees. As such, they received a 4% raise on their entire salary. If Superior Court judges only get a raise on a fraction of their full salary, they would eventually earn less despite their having jurisdiction over more serious matters, Charron argued.

Before 2014, the decision to raise judges’ supplement was made by state lawmakers. But counties complained.

“The Legislature was making financial decisions affecting the budgets of counties without them having any input,” Charron said. “In 2014, the Legislature enacted a law saying that any pay increases that are not affected by the state base pay would have to be considered by the board of commissioners.”

Board Chairman Mike Boyce said he would press state lawmakers to pick up their portion of future pay increases. In the meantime, he did not want to penalize judges for lawmakers’ inaction.

“Who knew that a 4% merit raise would cause this much controversy,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We have the resources to do this.”

In other business, commissioners allowed Mableton Banquet Hall to withdraw, without prejudice, its application for a bottle house license, which allows patrons to bring their own alcohol and drink it on-premises.

Mableton Banquet Hall had been allowing patrons to do so without a license, unaware that one was required, said License Review Board attorney Sam Hensley. When a change in ownership this year triggered zoning and code-enforcement checks, it was flagged for operating a bottle house without a license, among other things.

Kevin Moore, who represents owner Jeanette Cipriano, said the License Review Board denied her license application on a technicality. The Board of Commissioners would likely be compelled to do the same, he added, effectively shuttering the banquet hall.

A withdrawal without prejudice will allow Cipriano to apply anew without the standard 12-month waiting period.

Commissioners approved several other items on the agenda, including:

♦ The initial phase of a two-part contract to rebuild Fire Station 7 at 850 Hurt Road in Austell using funds from the 2016 penny sales tax;

♦ The installation of license plate readers at 13 parks around the county;

♦ Work totaling about $25 million to fix a lift station at the South Cobb Water Reclamation Facility, which failed on Dec. 31, 2018;

♦ A resolution requesting the brigadier general at Dobbins Air Reserve Base evaluate allowing non-military use of the base.

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