With a 4.6 percent raise last fall, Sullivan County commissioners have made themselves the highest paid county commissioners in the region. And before they chop one dime from local services that directly benefit taxpayers, they — and other counties — might consider why we need so many of them.
County commissions usually meet once per month. In Carter County, the 24 commissioners are paid $100 to attend that meeting. Unicoi County pays its nine commissioners and Hawkins County its 21 commissioners $300 per month; and Washington County pays its 25 commissioners $375 per month.
But in Sullivan County, the 24 commissioners earn $618 per month — nearly twice as much as most area counties and six times as much as Carter County.
It is not unusual for counties to adjust salaries based on prevailing pay in adjacent counties, and in that respect, it seems Sullivan commissioners are grossly overpaid.
Sullivan County commissioners may say we need 24 of them to manage the county’s business, since commissioners are appointed to a total of 17 committees and offices. But there are only three main committees that meet regularly — the rest don’t meet unless an issue requires it.
As well, the state’s most populous counties that are not part of a metro government seem to do quite well with fewer commissioners.
The state’s most populous county, Shelby, has 13 commissioners to serve a population of about 907,300. Knox County, with about 430,000 residents, has an 11-member commission, and Hamilton County, with some 333,000 residents, has but nine county commissioners.
But counties with much less population — and therefore smaller budgets and fewer services — seem to require many more commissioners. Rutherford, at 249,000 residents, has 21 commissioners; Williamson, 171,000 residents, has 24; Sumner, 155,000, also has 24; and Montgomery, at 155,000, has 21.
Sullivan has 24 commissioners for 154,000 residents; Blount, 21 for 122,000 residents; and Washington, 25, at 119,000 residents.
Time was when Sullivan had nearly 50 commissioners; the county redistricted to 24, serving 11 county districts. But especially considering what commissioners have decided to pay themselves, they might consider redistricting and retiring some members to save taxpayers money. A little load balancing seems justified considering what they earn.