Sullivan County commissioners' pay raise falls vote short

J. H. Osborne • Mar 20, 2007 at 1:39 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - It'll be at least another month before Sullivan County commissioners get a self-granted pay raise. But it might be the last raise they ever have to give themselves.

A resolution to increase commissioners' monthly salary from $275 to $500 failed Monday at the Sullivan County Commission's monthly meeting.

It was only a vote short.

It needed 16 votes - a two-thirds majority - from the 24-member commission. Next month, when the proposal is on "second reading" and considered "old business," it will need only a simple majority - 13 "yes" votes - to become effective.

Commissioners last received a pay raise in September 2002.

Commissioner O.W. Ferguson introduced the proposed raise to $500 earlier this month. He said other commissioners asked him to do it.

On Monday, Ferguson accepted an amendment to his resolution to tie county commissioners' pay to the county mayor's pay, effective July 2008.

That amendment, offered by Commissioner Wayne McConnell, calls for each commissioner's annual pay to equal 7 percent of the county mayor's pay.

The salary of the county mayor, like other constitutional officers in the county - including sheriff and county clerk - is set by state guidelines and automatically increases whenever, and however much, state employees' pay increases.

Based on the county mayor's current pay, McConnell said, each commissioner would receive $534.17 per month under his proposal.

In other business Monday, the commission agreed to a "correction" to the Sullivan County Department of Education's budget to, in part, sign off on an additional raise for Director of Schools Glenn Arwood.

Arwood received an 11.4 percent raise - from $91,563 per year to $102,000 per year - effective July 1 of last year, based on action of the Sullivan County Board of Education.

At that time Arwood's car allowance was also increased, from $500 per month to $550 per month.

A resolution approved by the County Commission Monday shifts money within the Department of Education's current budget to up Arwood's pay another $2,300.

When commissioners asked questions about the money last month, Assistant Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said a clause in Arwood's contract entitles him to any raise or bonus teachers get from the state.

In part, Arwood's contract states:

•Compensation - The salary for the director for the 2006-2007 year is $102,000 base salary. Evaluation determines additional salary thereafter.

•The Board (of Education) shall provide the director with all benefits applicable to professional employees of the school system including, but not limited to, group hospitalization coverage, holidays and sick leave.

•The board will evaluate Arwood's performance at least once per year, no later than March 31 each year.

Richard Kitzmiller, superintendent of Kingsport City Schools, has a clause in his contract that specifically states the Kingsport Board of Education will increase his salary "the same proportional amount as such increase provided to other certified personnel by the school system, including any ‘bonus' provided by the state, when such bonus becomes effective for other certified personnel."

Arwood's latest raise was just one of several budget transfers the school department was seeking approval for in the resolution approved by commissioners Monday.

Arwood said it was a "very routine" type resolution.

"Every year there's a need to redistribute the funds," Arwood said.

Commissioner Eddie Williams, chairman of the commission's Budget Committee, praised Arwood for his handling of the school system's $88 million budget. Such adjustments are to be expected in a budget that size, Williams said.

Commissioner Mark Vance asked Arwood when the county school system's teachers will ever receive increases to have salaries closer to pay for city systems' teachers.

Arwood told Vance he'd like to give him "a real hearty handshake."

"We've been saying a long time ‘let's get those salaries up,'" Arwood said.

Commissioner Dennis Houser said he is concerned that "the upper echelon" always seems to get the most benefit out of pay raises.

Houser asked if there had been any consideration to restoring benefits to cooks in school cafeterias.

Williams - who also lauded Arwood for delivering a $5 million-plus surplus in the school system's budget last year - said commissioners needed to be mindful that all the things they were asking Arwood about cost money.

Williams estimated it would take a 30 cent to 45 cent property tax increase to pay for the things mentioned.

McConnell said the school system asks for and receives more money each budget year - despite a steady reduction in the number of students.

"I think we've created a black hole over there," McConnell said. "We're throwing money down a rat hole, probably."

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