County officials’ pay hike trimmed after outcry over amount given to teachers, state employees

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Legislation passed during the legislative session giving county officials a raise also calls for a committee to study the salary structure for county officials and make recommendations to the 2020 Legislature.

Not only will school teachers and most state employees get raises under legislation that passed during the 2019 session, but a bill also is pending the signature of Gov. Phil Bryant to provide a salary increase for county officials, with the exception of sheriffs.

Sheriffs were not included in the bill because they had received a salary increase in recent years. Most other county officials hadn’t had a raise since 2004.

The raise for supervisors will be 3 percent while chancery and circuit clerks and tax assessors and collectors will see a 5 percent bump.

Rep. Manly Barton, R-Moss Point, said of the raise for supervisors, “3 percent was chosen, I think, because that is the amount state employees got. That is the reasoning there.”

Teachers also received a $1,500 per year raise in legislation that the governor recently signed into law. Many educators and others have voiced disappointment with the size of the raise for school teachers and for state employees

A majority of each county boards of supervisors must approve the raise before it will go into effect – Jan. 1 – for supervisors. For other offices it will be automatic, starting in January.

At one point each chamber had passed legislation that would give supervisors a $10,000 per year across the board raise and a maximum of $9,000 for chancery and circuit clerks. But as social media comments began to surface pointing out that school teachers and state employees were receiving a much smaller raise, momentum for providing a raise for county officials began to wane.

At one point it looked as though the bill was dead, but during the final days of the session, an agreement was reached to provide a much smaller raise. In addition, the bill calls for most fees collected for providing services, such as filing court records for an adoption, filing a land dispute, or filing alterations for a birth certificate and marriage certificate, would be standardized at $85. Currently, the cost of those fees vary from $25 to $75. The bill also calls for the fees to the clerks for attending court to increase, plus fees for law enforcement serving warrants and for local medical examiners completing medical reports all to increase.

The cost of a marriage license would increase from $21 to $35.

The offices of chancery and circuit clerk are supposed to be operated on those fees with the chancery and circuit clerks being able to keep $90,000 of that amount for their salaries. Under the legislation pending the governor’s signatures, the amount of the fees they could retain would be increased by 5 percent.

Supervisors are paid based on the assessed valuation of the county they represent. In the smallest counties a 3 percent pay raise will result in a salary increase of $870 to $29,870 per year. In the most wealthy counties the increase will be $1,401  to $48,101 annually.

Tax assessors and collectors currently earn between $48,500 and $64,000 based on the counties’ assessed valuation. They will be in line for a 5 percent increase.

Barton said the increase would add about $25,000 per year to the budgets in the larger counties. In some instances, the fee increases will result in additional money going to the county general funds after the costs of operating the offices of chancery and circuit clerks are paid.

The legislation also calls for a committee to study the salary structure for county officials and make recommendations to the 2020 Legislature.

Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, referenced the pay raises approved during the 2019 session as “a short-term” fix and indicated larger increases might be needed to properly adjust their salaries that had not been increased since 2004.

Legislators pointed out that the county pay raises are paid with local funds while teachers and state employees are paid with state funds.