County supervisors could garner a $10,000 annual raise and chancery and circuit clerks’ salaries could increase as much as $9,000 under legislation that has overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature.
Under the proposal that will go to conference where key House and Senate negotiators will try to hammer out the final version during the waning days of the session, tax assessors, tax collectors and coroners also will receive salary bumps.
Other county officials, such as sheriffs, will not receive a raise because they have had one in recent years.
But for many county officials, the Legislature has not granted authority for a pay raise since the 2003 session.
“It is high time” for a raise, said Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors. “This does not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020.”
Each local board of supervisors will have to vote for the raise before members will receive it. The raise for other county offices is automatic.
On social media, there has been an outcry by some that supervisors might receive a $10,000 per year raise while pending proposals in the Legislature would give teachers only a $1,000 per year raise phased in over two years. And there is still a question of whether state employees, many of whom have not had a raise since 2007, will receive any additional pay this session.
While the argument that teachers and state employees need bigger raises, or at least some increase, might be legitimate, there is at least one difference between the pay increase county officials may receive and what is being proposed for teachers and perhaps state employees.
The pay raise for teachers and state employees would be funded by the state. Each county is responsible for the cost of the raise for the local officials.
Rep. Manly Barton, R-Moss Point, said the raise would cost each county about $70,000 per year. He said for a small county the cost would be significant, but for a large county it would be equivalent to “a rounding error.”
Legislators are proposing increases in various fees to help pay for the raise.
For instance, in the circuit clerks’ offices, the fee associated with filing a land dispute will increase from $75 to $85 and the cost for alterations to a marriage or birth certificate will increase from $35 to $85.
All of the proposals in the legislation are pending and could change later in the process.
Both the offices of circuit and chancery clerks are funded solely from the fees they collect for various services, from filing property deeds to dealing with civil mental health commitments.
Currently the salaries of circuit and chancery clerks are capped at $90,000 annually from the fees collected. The clerks also must pay their personnel and other office expenses out of the fees.
Under the legislation, the clerks’ salaries can be increased to as much as $99,000 per year.
Barton said in many of the smaller counties the current fee schedule, which has not been altered in years, does not generate enough revenue to pay for all office expenses. He said hopefully the fee increase would cover the expenses in all counties and in some instances result in enough money being returned to the general fund to help with the cost of the other salary increases.
Only two members of the 52 member Senate and 14 members of the 122 member House voted against the salary increases for county officials.
In the Senate, Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, voted against the proposal. He said he opposed increasing the fees.
He said he is not opposed to the salary increases, but “I have a problem with growing government. Government is already wasteful and inefficient.”
He said such raises should be paid for by eliminating waste.
Currently supervisors are paid between $29,000 and $50,700 annually based on the assessed property value of the county. Under the legislation, all supervisors could garner a $10,000 per year raise.
Tax assessors and collectors currently earn between $41,500 and $64,000 based on the counties’ assessed valuation. That would be increased to between $55,750 and $76,250.
Also being proposed this session is an increase in the cost of a marriage license from $21 to $35. House Ways and Means Chair Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said the current fee does not provide enough funds to cover the cost of issuing the license for the circuit clerks.
Bobby Harrison has been covering state government and politics since 1995 — previously for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo. Harrison, a Jones County native, worked in multiple other capacities for the Daily Journal ranging from sports writer and sports editor to news editor. Harrison is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.