County has little control over pay

Published 10:42 pm Monday, August 3, 2009

The Pike County Commission may have higher salaries than local city councils, but that’s partly beyond its control.

In 2001, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill that set a base salary for local elected officials, including county commissioners.

“The theory was we should somehow adjust the salaries on some relation to the difficulty of the job, and the only thing we could think of was population,” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

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And, based on the population of Pike County, commissioners’ salaries were set at a minimum of around $17,000.

But also as part of that law, commissioners would start to earn the same cost of living raises granted to county employees.

“If the employees are given a cost of living raise, then the elected officials get that raise,” Brasfield said.

Pike County Administrator Harry Sanders said he’s not certain how many cost of living raises county employees have earned since 2001, but each time that goes up, the base salaries are increased.

A beginning commissioner salary is now $20,900 after these raises have accumulated.

This amount does not include the annual guaranteed 3 percent raises all county employees receive on the anniversary of their date of hire, so some commissioners are paid more than this base amount depending on how long they’ve been employed.

In a year when the county commission has discussed cutting back in hard economic times, decreasing their salaries is not something Brasfield said they would be permitted to do by law.

“Nothing in the law says commissioners have the authority to decrease their salaries,” Brasfield said. “So that’s really not an option.”

Even if it was an option, many commissioners said they feel their salaries are adequate.

“I think the salary’s adequate like it is,” said District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Barron. “I don’t think we need a raise, but I’m not for cutting it down because there’s a lot of behind the scenes work we do.”

In a previous interview, Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan agreed salaries should not change.

District 6 Commissioner Karen Berry said since salaries are set by law, she never really thought about whether her compensation was too high.

“I didn’t think anything could be done because it’s home rule and has to be done by the legislature,” Berry said.

“Sometimes it seems like it’s not enough, and sometimes I think I really don’t deserve it. I don’t think it should be any higher.”

Barron said the salary he receives as commissioner he uses to cover expenses.

“I try to use my money I get paid for the county,” Barron said.

And, that’s the reason Barron has voted against the budget in the past because it allotted separate money for travel and discretionary expenses.

“To me, they pay us a salary to offset those expenses, and that’s what it’s for,” Barron said.

“I’m just one commissioner, but that’s the way I look at it.”

Other commissioners didn’t want to discuss their thoughts on salaries.

“I have no comments on any of that,” said District 5 Commissioner Charlie Harris.

Brasfield said while commissioners can not legally change the amount of their salaries, they could waive compensation.

“There is a provision that allows for any elected officials to waive their compensation,” Brasfield said.

“But that statute doesn’t change what the compensation is.”