Commission rejects cut in pay for its members

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, August 19, 2015

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A handful of Carter County commissioners failed in their attempt to reduce the amount of pay for all commissioners — including themselves — as the Carter County Commission rejected a proposal to decrease the overall cost of the commissioners’ salaries on the taxpayers.
During Monday’s Commission meeting, members were presented with a resolution that would have changed how commissioners are paid. Currently, each commissioner receives $100 for each meeting of the full commission they attend and $50 for each committee meeting they attend.
The proposal would have set the commissioners’ salaries at a fixed rate of $150 per month, regardless of how many meetings they attend during that month.
The idea to change the salary came about during the annual budget process when members of the budget committee debated how to best fund the commissioner salary line item. During the 2014-15 fiscal year funding for that line item fell short due to the Commission having to hold two special called meetings, which resulted in an additional expense of about $4,800.
Members of the budget committee voted 5-2 to approve the pay change, which then-Finance Director Ingrid Deloach estimated would save the county about $14,000 per year on the salaries.
When the resolution was presented Monday evening, Commissioner Robert Carroll made a motion to approve it and it was seconded by Commissioner Sonja Culler.
However Commissioner Buford Peters, who had voted for the proposal in the budget committee, reversed himself and spoke out against it during Monday’s meeting, saying taking away pay would take away an incentive for commissioners to attend meetings.
“What’s to make people show up to the meeting,” Peters asked. “They are getting paid to show up; now, under this, they won’t be.”
Culler noted that commissioners miss meetings under the current pay schedule as well.
“I would have hopes that we are elected officials here and we should do our jobs,” she said.
Commissioner Nancy Brown echoed Culler’s opinion regarding attendance.
“We took an oath to do our jobs,” Brown said, adding she supported the pay cut. “If anything, I think it should be less.”
Commissioner Charles VonCannon attempted to amend Carroll’s motion to set the commission’s rate of pay to $0, but County Attorney Joshua Hardin informed the body that state law sets the minimum pay for counties the size of Carter County at $35 for a full commission meeting and $17.50 for each committee meeting.
VonCannon then changed his amendment, seeking to set the pay to the state allowed minimum. Brown seconded the amendment, but it ultimately failed on a vote of 7-17.
Commissioners Brown, VonCannon, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz, Ray Lyons, Scott Simerly, Robert Carroll and Robert Gobble voted in favor of setting pay at the state minimum. Commissioners Willie Campbell, Peters, Robert Acuff, Mike Hill, Al Meehan, Bradley Johnson, Ronnie Trivett, Isaiah Grindstaff, L.C. Tester, Danny Ward, Ross Garland, Timothy Holdren, Randall Jenkins, John Lewis, Larry Miller, Culler and Cody McQueen opposed the pay cut.
Commissioners then voted on the original motion by Carroll to set the pay rate at a flat monthly salary of $150, but that motion also failed, this time by a margin of 8-16.
Campbell, Garland, Lewis, Miller, Culler, Lyons, Carroll and Gobble all cast votes in favor of the flat salary, but Peters, Acuff, Brown, Hill, Meehan, Johnson, Trivett, VonCannon, Grindstaff, Tester, Ward, Gouge-Dietz, Holdren, Jenkins, Simerly and McQueen opposed it.
After the two attempts to change the salary failed, a motion was made to refer the salary issue back to the budget committee, but that vote also failed on a margin of 10-14.
During discussion on the original proposal, interim Finance Director Christa Byrd informed the group that the commission’s line item for the recently approved 2015-16 budget was built around the basis of the $150 flat monthly rate and funds in that line item would fall short if the resolution was not passed by the full commission. Money will have to be taken from the county’s reserves in order to cover the cost of the commissioner salaries, Byrd said.

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