BLOUNTVILLE - Sullivan County commissioners approved themselves a pay raise Monday.
It will up commissioners' pay from $275 per month to $500 per month - with an automatic increase beginning in July 2008. From that point, commissioners' pay will be linked to the county mayor's salary. Each commissioner will be paid 7 percent of whatever the county mayor makes each year.
The vote on the pay raise was 15 "yes" to six "no." Two commissioners - Joe Herron and Jim King - passed on the vote, while Commissioner Ralph Harr was absent.
Before the vote, Herron said he thinks the increase is "well-deserved" and that the current $275 per month "doesn't even cover the bills" - something that even $500 is "a low figure" to do. But, he said, he would feel bad voting for the raise - which will come from taxpayers and benefit himself and other commissioners.
Voting against the raise were Commissioners Clyde Groseclose, John McKamey, Randy Morrell, Michael Surgenor, Mark Vance and Eddie Williams.
The measure needed 13 "yes" votes for passage.
Commissioners last received a pay raise in September 2002.
Commissioner O.W. Ferguson introduced the proposed raise to $500 last month. He said other commissioners asked him to do it.
When the full commission was about to vote on the proposal last month, 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. But that figure will be out of date as of July 1 when the county mayor's salary is set to increase by about $4,500 to more than $96,000. Seven percent of $96,000 per year would be $560 per month. And that figure could increase again by July 2008.
In other business Monday, the commission voted 20-3 to go on record - again - in opposition to the federal government's plan to sell several hundred acres of the Cherokee National Forest, a portion of which is in the eastern end of Sullivan County.
Commissioner Buddy King said the commission should seek input from local U.S. Forestry Service officials before casting a vote on the issue.
"I'd rather trust these people here than trust the people in Washington," he said.
McKamey said commissioners could not expect local Forestry Service officials to say anything that could get them in trouble with their bosses.
Commissioner Jim King urged the commission to go ahead and take the vote and send a message to state and federal lawmakers.
He said the issue couldn't be any clearer: Selling the land will erode nationally owned natural areas, when lawmakers should be trying to add to such lands.
McConnell proposed deferring the vote until next month, but that effort failed a vote by the full commission.
Commissioners Dwight King, Buddy King and McConnell voted against opposing the sale of the lands.
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