Sullivan County officials split on pay raise

J. H. Osborne • Sep 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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

But that didn’t go over too well with everyone in line for the $1,008 per year raise.

Commissioner Moe Brotherton spoke against giving up the raise at a Budget Committee meeting last week.

Brotherton said he was not happy about Commissioner Wayne McConnell’s suggestion — made a day earlier at the County Commission’s Executive Committee — of postponing the pay raise for commissioners until the county could find a way to provide a pay raise for employees.

“I got on him this morning. ... He’s going to take our raise away,” Brotherton said of McConnell. “Our raise got to be tied to the mayor’s raise ... by resolution. (McConnell is) going to take our raise away this year. But also, that’s going to take our raise away next year.”

The terms of office for all 24 members of the County Commission expire in August 2010.

Brotherton, whose district includes much of the Colonial Heights area, said a state-mandated raise for the county’s constitutional officeholders — such as the mayor — is linked to whatever increase state employees receive the year before. No raise for state employees this year means no pay raise next year for county officeholders, Brotherton said — and that, in turn, would mean no pay raise for county commissioners next year.

Brotherton said he wasn’t ashamed to take this year’s raise.

“My gas bill is $700-something a month,” Brotherton said. “Every county around this county pays their commissioners’ insurance and retirement. I didn’t take this job for the money, either, or insurance or retirement. But it also is getting to be a little expensive and involve a lot of time. In the district I’m in down there, I get three or four phone calls every day. I’m not ashamed to have that raise. It’s not that much. I only clear about $300-some dollars a month after the government takes taxes, Medicare and Social Security out.”

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

That could happen at the County Commission’s next scheduled meeting: 9:30 a.m. Sept. 15 on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

The pay hike is linked to a state-mandated pay raise for county constitutional officeholders.

Earlier last week, McConnell had said he would be introducing a resolution 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.

Sullivan County has about 750 non-school employees, according to information provided by the county’s payroll department earlier this year: General Fund, 450; Highway Department, 136; Observation Knob Park, two; Sanitation, 15; Health Department, 83; and Emergency Medical Service, 63.

Other commissioners, along with County Attorney Dan Street and Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey, told McConnell there was no legal way to not give constitutional officeholders the state-mandated raises.

A couple of commissioners on the Executive Committee told McConnell they supported his basic concept and that they’d be willing to forgo the pay raise for commissioners and try to get others to agree as well .

The next day, as the County Commission had “first reading” of the county’s $164.22 million budget proposal for the fiscal year that began more than two months ago, McConnell said commissioners should forgo their pay raise until the county budget includes a raise for employees.

“I think we ought to freeze everybody’s salary until such time we get enough money ... to give employees ... a raise,” McConnell said. “I think we ought to find money to give employees a raise — if we’re going to get a raise ourselves, we ought to cut the budget some way or the other to give employees a 2 percent raise.”

According to information provided by the county’s accounting office, a 2 percent raise for county employees would cost $655,000 — including benefits.

“I really don’t want a raise unless we can give employees a raise,” McConnell said.

According to information released by the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), County Mayor Steve Godsey 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.

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 the county’s accounting office, under a Freedom of Information Act request, Godsey’s pay for the year that began July 1 will be $100,124.85.

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.

“I know times are tough,” said McConnell. “But it’s tougher on some people than others, especially those toward the lower end of the totem pole.”

Commissioner Sam Jones said he agreed “it would be good” if the county could give employees a pay raise — but he said the proposed budget does include about $700,000 in new money to cover rising employee health insurance costs.

“You don’t always see it in take-home pay, but we are funding a huge chunk in benefits,” Jones said.

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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