Voters ‘skeptical’ when

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 29, 2000

amendments deal with money


Staff Writer

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Although Amendment 1 has gotten attention statewide, there is a long list of amendment on Tuesday’s ballot.

Two of those deal directly with Pike County money.

"Ballot issues are always interesting in Alabama," said James Joyner, assistant professor of political science at Troy State University.

He said citizens tend to be "skeptical" of amendments because they are "poorly worded" and the average person does not understand what they say. He said he even has a difficult interpreting what the amendments mean.

Of Amendment 1, which has generated the most attention, Joyner suspects "it will ultimately pass. The support is pretty widespread because we’re desperate for the money."

But, in Joyner’s opinion, the issue shouldn’t even be on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"This is something the legislature should be dealing with," Joyner said, adding the state needs "home rule."

In talking about the amendments, Joyner touched on a much larger issue ­ that of rewriting the Alabama Constitution of 1901.

"Look at the U.S. Constitution," Joyner said. "It’s four pages long, five with the amendments. We’ve done pretty well with it."

He said the reason the United States Constitution has held up so well is because it deals with "broad issues," compared to the state’s

And, on Tuesday, Alabamians will be adding more changes to the Constitution, some of those directly affect Pike County.

Passage of Local Amendment 2 could mean thousands of dollars for the county, in the long run.

On the Nov. 7 ballot are listed a number of amendments and two of those deal with eliminating supernumeraries in Pike County.

If passed, Pike County’s officials eligible for the supernumerary system would be given the opportunity to participate in the Employees’ Retirement System. Anyone elected in the future would receive retirement through the Retirement System of Alabama.

Webster’s dictionary defines supernumerary as "an extra person or thing."

When the system was established it was for the purpose of allowing past officials to help out in time of need. But, over the years, it has become an "extra" retirement system.

And, it’s that reason there has been a push statewide to eliminate it.

When it was put on the ballot last year, not enough Alabamians voted to eliminate the supernumerary system, so individual counties, like Pike, have put the issue to another vote this November. The issue was voted for favorably by those in Pike County.

When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they will also see several amendments listed and two of those relate to Pike County’s stand on the supernumerary system.

There are two on the ballot because the first one was originally planned for the ballot last year, but was pulled when the statewide amendment was put to the vote. In other words, Amendment 2 is the one that really counts.

The local amendment was put on the ballot after State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, was approached by the Pike County Commission and he got the bill passed.

He said he "had no problem" with the bill because eliminating the supernumeraries will save Pike County money.

"The counties have to pay the money, now," Boothe said.

And, he quickly added, there is "a lot of county money" being spent that could be saved.

For example, he understands supernumeraries are costing Covington County about $200,000.

Boothe said passage of the amendment will allow elected officials to go on the state retirement system if they are approved by the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

"It started out as a retirement system for people who have been in office a long time," Boothe said of the supernumerary system. "Not until recent times, could a lot of people get into the RSA."

He said switching from the supernumerary system "will not prevent anyone’s retirement."

Pike County Administrator Steve Hicks said the issue has come up "almost every two years."

Hicks said two of the elected officials in Pike County are eligible under the supernumerary system. Those are Revenue Commissioner Curtis Blair and Sheriff Russell Thomas.

At this time, the county is paying $28,000 to pay for the supernumerary system out of its coffers. Money that goes into the retirement system is contributed by the public officials and invested. After 10 years of service, an individual can receive benefits from the RSA.

If out from under the supernumerary system, the county would only have to pay about $387 per year, Hicks said. He added, if every elected official in Pike County was under the RSA, the county would only have to pay $729 per year, compared to the $28,000 being paid under the supernumerary system.

"Really, it’s more of an advantage," Hicks said of the retirement system.

Under the current law, Blair, who earns an annual salary of $52,500, would be entitled to 60 percent of that salary after 12 years of service, 65 percent for 14 years, 70 percent for 16 years and 75 percent for 18 years.

With two officials under the supernumerary system, Hicks said there is the potential for the county to have to pay out $75,125 a year.

"Realistically, it’s a long-term benefit (for the county)," Hicks said, adding the benefits to the county would not be immediately seen.

"There’s the potential to save a lot of money," he said.

If someone under the supernumerary system dies, the spouse receives half of what the deceased would be entitled to over 15 years.

Hicks said "back in the dark ages," the supernumerary system provided for certain elected officials to be able to bring an experienced person back in the event something happened and the current officeholder could not take care of all his or her duties. It later developed into a retirement system.

In recent years, Pike County’s judges joined the judicial retirement system, leaving only the revenue commissioner and sheriff eligible for supernumerary status.