County attorney says Sullivan commissioners can give themselves pay hike

J. H. Osborne • Mar 15, 2007 at 12:36 PM

BLOUNTVILLE - Good news for Sullivan County commissioners' bank accounts. It's legal for commissioners to give themselves a proposed $225-per-month raise.

And the raise can be effective as soon as it's approved by a majority of the County Commission's 24 members.

County Attorney Dan Street last week had said he didn't think state law allowed sitting elected officials to raise their own salaries.

Now Street says he was mistaken.

"I researched that question," Street said Wednesday. "There's a case right on point: It says county commissioners can raise their pay. It was a Supreme Court case, and it says they can do it."

Street said he has passed the information on to several of the commissioners who were present last week when he had opined the move sounded illegal.

All three of the County Commission's primary committees - Administrative, Budget and Executive - discussed the proposed pay raise last week.

Two of the committees deferred action on the issue, but the Budget Committee endorsed the pay raise.

Commissioner O.W. Ferguson is sponsor of the proposal.

Ferguson said he proposed the pay raise after several other commissioners asked him to do it.

His resolution, co-sponsored by Commissioners Bill Kilgore and Buddy King, seeks to increase commissioners' pay from $275 per month to $500 per month - effective if, and as soon as, the full commission adopts it.

As the Executive Committee discussed the issue last week, Commissioner Jim King asked if commissioners are permitted to raise their own pay - or if any increases can only become effective with the next term of office.

Street said elected officials raising their own pay is "generally frowned on. But I think they ought to get a raise."

Commissioner Wayne McConnell said increases in commissioners' pay should be somehow linked to other elected officials' pay increases, so sitting commissioners would never be put in the position of having to propose their own raises.

State law dictates the salary for most elected county officials, and raises are given each time state employees get a raise.

"Every time the elected officials get a raise, we should too," McConnell said.

Commissioner Linda Brittenham said she agreed with McConnell, and that the county should also look at providing other benefits, such as insurance, to commissioners.

Sullivan County commissioners last received a raise in September 2002. They're paid monthly, on the last day of the month.

The pay raise for commissioners could come up for a vote when the commission meets Monday at 9 a.m. on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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