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Merger bill read in Senate

ATLANTA -- While a revamped bill calling for the merger of the city and county governments made its first trip out onto the Senate floor Friday, city leaders locally scrambled to fix what they call an inadvertent error that would have doubled the pay of the new government's elected leaders.

Senate Bill 538 was presented to the Senate Friday morning and was read and referred to the Senate Committee on State and Local Government Operations, clerks officials said.

Because it's a piece of local legislation, the bill will likely sail through the committee and back out onto the Senate floor where it will eventually be voted on. The bill must then clear a vote in the house before heading to the U.S. Justice Department and finally the voters in what is expected to be a November referendum.

But as the bill, which was offered by Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, Wednesday and posted online for the first time Friday, began its course through the General Assembly, city officials were scrambling to correct what they said was an error that, if passed, would double the pay of the new commission and its chief elected official.

After being questioned by the Herald Friday about language in the bill that stated commissioners -- whose base pay under the bill is $15,000, the same as current commissioners -- would jump to $30,000 once they became certified municipal officers or certified county commissioners, city officials took a second look and determined there was, in fact, an error.

"I intend to ask Attorney (Nathan) Davis to advise the state legislative counsel of the error on Monday," Assistant City Manager Wes Smith wrote in an e-mail to the Herald.

Since neither House has yet to actually vote on the bill, changes can still be made without jeopardizing the process, Senate officials say.

While the issue of salaries of the elected officials was debated by both the Dougherty County Commission and the Albany City Commission, the city commission -- whose version is what the bill is based on -- never voted on raises for certification, but merely establishing the base pay of $15,000 per year.

The CEO's pay, $25,000, would also be doubled upon receipt of certification under the language currently in the bill but that too is likely to be changed.

While the charter is important in establishing the framework of any new government, the new elected leaders -- which will be selected in November 2012 should the referendum pass -- will be able to change or modify nearly aspect of the new government.