Some Sullivan commissioners say skip pay hike

J. H. Osborne • Sep 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Some Sullivan County commissioners say they’re willing to reject — and ask fellow commissioners to do the same — self-approved pay raises for the budget cycle that began July 1.

Thanks to a vote last year, commissioners are up for a double-digit percent pay raise, retroactive to July 1 — once the county’s budget is approved.

The pay hike, about $1,008 per year for each of the commission’s 24 members — according to the county’s accounting department — is linked to a state-mandated pay raise for county constitutional officeholders.

Commissioner Wayne McConnell said he plans to introduce a resolution, however, to “freeze” the pay of all elected officials — until such time that the county is able to provide a pay raise to its non-elected employees.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet in called session today at 9 a.m. for first reading of the county budget for the year that began July 1. The budget proposal was developed based on no increase in the county’s property tax rate and no growth in sales tax revenues. It is expected to keep departmental spending at last year’s level, and is not expected to include a pay raise of any kind for county employees. At least not when it is presented to commissioners for the first time this morning.

“If we can’t give our employees a raise, I don’t think we should get a raise,” McConnell said at a meeting of the County Commission’s Executive Committee on Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s right to keep everybody at last year’s level and all the elected officials, including commissioners, getting a raise.”

McConnell asked if it was possible to freeze all elected officials’ salaries — specifically since some of the salaries already exceed state minimums for the offices in question.

Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey, County Attorney Dan Street, other commissioners told him state law requires the county to pay the salary increases for the elected officials in question.

Those state-ordered raises mean Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey and other constitutional officeholders will see bigger paychecks as soon as the budget is approved.

According to information released by the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), Godsey, Sheriff Wayne Anderson, Highway Commissioner Allan Pope and other constitutional officeholders will be getting a nearly 4.9 percent raise.

Although the state mandates the raises, it does not provide any funding to implement them. That’s left up to the county, including another 22 percent or so for added benefits, Bailey said earlier this year.

Tennessee law dictates a minimum level of pay for various officeholders, based on county population. It also links the pay to the average annualized general increase in state employees’ salaries. State law provides for an automatic increase in the minimum salary each year based on the percentage increase given to state employees for the previous fiscal year.

In the past year, according to the information from CTAS, state employees received total average increases of 4.89 percent over the prior year.

Godsey’s salary for the budget cycle that ended June 30 was $95,791 — up from $91,572 a year earlier and up from the $89,235 salary of Godsey’s predecessor during his last year in office.

According to figures provided to the Times-News by Bailey’s office under a Freedom of Information Act request, Godsey’s pay for the year that began July 1 will be $100,124.85.

To get to Godsey’s raise for the budget year you have to first calculate the new pay levels for Anderson and Pope — because how much the county mayor’s salary increases depends on how much salaries for those officeholders increase.

State law dictates that county mayors’ salaries be at least 5 percent higher than the salary for any other county constitutional officer. State law also dictates that the sheriff’s salary and the highway commissioner’s salary be at least 10 percent more than that of “general officeholders,” which share the same pay level and include: assessor of property; trustee; circuit court clerk; chancery court clerk; clerk and master; county clerk; and register of deeds.

For the budget year that ended June 30, the salary for those offices was $76,722 — up from $73,069 last fiscal year — and it’s set to increase to $80,474 based on the figures from CTAS, and from Bailey’s office.

Anderson’s salary for the year that ended June 30 was $91,230 — up from $87,211 last fiscal year. The minimum salary for county sheriff under state law for the upcoming fiscal year will be $88,522, according to the figures from CTAS.

But Anderson’s pay exceeds the minimum because Sullivan County’s sheriff receives additional compensation — $6,835 — for operating multiple facilities, a practice that is permitted by state law.

The same situation and same figures apply to the salary for Pope. That office, too, is provided additional compensation — $6,835 — because of what’s described as additional duties and responsibilities.

Including the supplement, Anderson’s and Pope’s salaries are each projected at $95,357 for the fiscal year beginning July 1, according the figures obtained from the county’s accounting department.

And that puts Godsey’s salary at the $100,124.85 figure.

That’s where the raise for county commissioners comes in. Last year the Sullivan County Commission approved raising commissioners’ salaries from $250 per month to $500 per month, with future raises linked to the county mayor’s salary. That vote said beginning July 1 this year, each commissioner will be paid 7 percent of the county mayor’s salary.

Godsey’s $100,124.85 salary means each commissioner will be paid about $7,008 per year — or about $584 per month, an increase of about 17 percent.

Godsey’s boost also, in turn, ups the pay of County Attorney Dan Street, whose salary — per resolution of the County Commission — is set at 5 percent above that of the county mayor.

With Godsey at $100,124.85 for the year, Street’s salary will be about $105,131.09, according to the figures from the county’s accounting department.

A couple of commissioners on the Executive Committee told McConnell they supported his basic concept, and that they’d be willing to forego the pay raise for commissioners and try to get others to agree to as well — but that they didn’t see any way to get around paying the state-mandated pay raises for constitutional office holders.

Street said if McConnell could get 13 commissioners — the necessary majority — to agree to that, why not try instead to get 13 to vote for a pay raise for the county’s non-elected employees.

Salary information for the last fiscal year was provided to the Times-News by the county’s payroll department. Figures cited as being from CTAS are available at www.ctas.tennessee.edu.

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