A proposal to raise county commissioner salaries touched off a spirited debate among the commissioners at Tuesday night's Board of Commissioner's meeting with three commissioners coming down hard against the proposed salary increase.
District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons and District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson proposed that the board reexamine the formula that determines commissioner salaries. No vote on the matter was held Tuesday night.
Henderson and Simmons based their proposal on the fact that the formula adopted by the BOC in 2001 to determine commissioner salaries set the compensation at 20 percent of the base salary of the sheriff - at that time the highest paid elected official.
Since then, the salary of Probate Judge Henry Baker has risen to become the highest salary of an elected official. According to a listing of the total compensated salaries of all county elected officials obtained through an open records request, Baker's total compensated salary is $120,600.
Much of the increase to Baker's salary over the years has come from 5 percent longevity adjustments which are added to the base salaries of all elected officials for every four year term completed.
Simmons and Henderson proposed resetting the commissioner's salary to 20 percent of the base salary of the probate judge. Such a readjustment would result in a base salary of $24,120 for the commissioners. The base salary of the commissioners is currently set at $15,649.
With 5 percent longevity adjustments, cost of living adjustments, a $200 per month miscellaneous expense allowance and an educational supplement added in, total commissioner salaries are $21,379 for District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing, $18,985 for District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons, $22,208 for District 3 Ester Fleming, $22,208 for District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson and $20,549 for District 5 Commissioner Monty Laster.
Fleming said he would not support a salary increase for himself saying "you mainly give service back to the community. I didn't run for the income."
Ewing and Laster echoed the sentiments of Fleming and said that they would not support an increase for themselves either.
After listening to their comments Simmons chided the three commissioners for "publicly grandstanding."
"I didn't run for office to get rich," Simmons said adding that the opposing commissioners shouldn't question the integrity or motives of himself and Henderson for proposing the salary increase.
Simmons said that as a commissioner, he was on-call to his constituents 24-hours a day and that his work as a commissioner was a full-time job
County Executive Officer John Middleton said the matter of when a salary increase for the commissioners could go into effect was being researched.
According to County Attorney Tommy Craig, if handled at the local level, salary increases will not go into effect until after the next election cycle for each seat has passed. By that calculation an increase for commissioners from Districts 1, 3 and 5 would not take effect until 2009 and a salary increase for commissioners from Districts 2 and 4 would not take effect until 2011.