VOL. 132 | NO. 205 | Monday, October 16, 2017
County Commission Votes on Big Pay Raises
The pay of 19 Shelby County government elected officials would go up in September 2018 for those elected in the August 2018 county general elections under proposals the county commission considers Monday, Oct. 16, on the first of three readings.
The six countywide elected positions affected – county mayor, sheriff, trustee, county clerk, register and assessor – would see pay increases ranging from $15,537 for the assessor to a $37,945 pay increase for the sheriff.
Shelby County commissioners themselves would get a boost of $3,000 to annual pay of $32,100 – a 9.3 percent pay raise – for what is considered a part-time job. The pay of the chairman of the commission, elected among commissioners on an annual basis, is set annually under terms of the county charter. It is currently $2,000 more a year than other commissioners are paid.
If approved by two-thirds of the commission on third and final reading – nine of the 13 commissioners – the pay raises would take effect Sept. 1, 2018, for those 19 offices over their four-year terms.
The commission meets at 3 p.m. at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, 160 N. Main St. Follow the meeting @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols, for live coverage.
Various commissioners are proposing the pay raise after commissioner Walter Bailey sought, and the administration of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, compared the pay of similar county officials in the state’s largest counties.
County chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy said, however, that the findings by his staff did not mean that the administration supports the proposals.
“This is not something the administration is doing, is proposing,” he told commissioners in Oct. 4 committee sessions. “This is a county commission decision, according to the charter. We’re not proposing this, but we were asked to provide a study.”
Bailey has been a long-time advocate of paying elected officials more. In the committee discussion, he decried the “woeful inadequacy of the salaries they receive.”
Commissioner Van Turner, who is a co-sponsor of the pay ordinances, said his support is tied to some kind of pay increase for county corrections division officers in the new term of office.
Luttrell has opposed the pay parity that corrections officers are seeking with deputy jailers at the county jail in the Criminal Justice Center. Luttrell, a former sheriff who ran federal prisons before being elected sheriff and then mayor, has said the pay should not be the same because the job of a deputy jailer is much more dangerous and requires a higher degree of training than that of corrections center officer.
Luttrell is term limited and thus is not running for re-election in 2018.
County commissioner Terry Roland, who is term limited on the commission, is among those running for county mayor, starting with the May Republican primary.
Roland is among those opposed to the pay raises.
“I’m not going to vote for any of these,” he said of the three ordinances. “It is what it is. The pay is there. If they don’t want it, don’t run for that office. They are supposed to be public servants.”
However, Roland said he is willing to consider a pay raise for the corrections employees.
The largest pay increase would be for the new sheriff. Current sheriff Bill Oldham, who is term limited, makes $116,955 a year. The new sheriff would make $154,890 a year under the proposal, a 32.4 percent increase.
Commissioner Mark Billingsley, who voted against the ordinances in committee, said he wants to see how many people each of the elected leaders supervise.
“There are not many people in this county that supervise 2,000 employees for that salary,” he said of the sheriff. “It’s very, very low.”
The pay raise proposed for sheriff is a function of a county charter provision that requires the sheriff’s pay to be at least 80 percent of the county mayor’s pay, but not more than 95 percent.
Kennedy said his staff settled on a pay raise that would be 90 percent of the proposed $172,100 annual pay of the mayor – which would represent a $29,600-per-year, or 20.8 percent, pay raise if the ordinances are approved.
Commissioner Reginald Milton said the raises are warranted.
“People who take a job – they have to support their families like anybody else,” he said. “And if you want the best people, you have to pay a competitive price. These are people who work very hard and they deserve it.”
Even if an ordinance fails on both or either of the first two readings, it still advances to third and final reading under the commission’s rules of procedure, and can be approved on that third vote.
The raise for commissioners could also mean a pay increase for Memphis City Council members – their pay would automatically increased if county commissioners get a pay increase under terms a city charter amendment approved by voters in 1996.
“The salary of the city council shall be equal to the salary and expenses as set for the Shelby County Commission upon approval by a majority of the qualified voters voting thereon,” the charter amendment reads.
Council members proposed the charter amendment after city voters rejected several ballot questions over three decades that would have raised the pay of council members above the $6,000 a year set in 1967.
Some county commissioners have been discussing ballot questions for 2018 and someone may propose increasing term limits from two to three consecutive terms.
Voters countywide set the two-term limit for the mayor and county commission in 1994.
Attempts to alter those term limits for various offices since then has not been approved by voters.