Thursday, January 23, 2014
Voters Need a Say on Salaries
(Note: Please also see the previous entry on "Salaries, Schools, & Sewers")
CHARLES TOWN - Elected officials in West Virginia may see a salary increase, but due to budget concerns, the raise will not likely happen this year.
According to Vivian Parsons, executive director of the County Commissioners' Association of West Virginia, it has been eight years since elected officials in the Eastern Panhandle got a raise.
"In October, the county commissioners' association board of directors met, and we brought the issue (of a possible pay raise) to our membership," Parsons said. "Seventy percent of our members opposed the raise happening in 2014. We feel they work hard and deserve a raise, but the consensus was that this just isn't the right time."
Parsons said the salary of elected officials is set by the state legislature. Jefferson County commissioners and Berkeley County council members currently receive an annual salary of $36,900.
Parsons cites economic issues, local as well as state, as the reason the potential raise has been put on hold.
"We've received warnings from state leaders about the economy," Parsons said. "Some counties also have concerns with their own budgets."
Jefferson County commissioners have found themselves in a tight financial spot, and faced a $3.9 million deficit in December, but Jefferson County commissioner Dale Manuel remains in favor of a raise.
Manuel said in December that he believes the responsibilities that come with being a county commissioner are increasing, and the commissioners' pay should reflect the hours they put into their work.
"It's more and more work," he said during a legislative summit. "I know it is in Jefferson County, and I know it is in Berkeley County, too. You're constantly going to meetings, you're constantly working on the budget and so forth."
Delegate Larry D. Kump, R-Berkeley, is working on legislation that may give elected officials in the state a raise.
Kump said there is a proposal to increase elected officials' salaries by 12 percent, an idea he disagrees with because, he said, elected officials knew what their salary would be when they got into office.
Rather than a set increase, Kump is proposing a voter referendum in which county commissions would set a desired amount and county residents could vote on the salary increase proposed by their commission.
"I think these types of determinations ought to be local, based on voter input," Kump said. "This way, authority can be given back to local counties."
Manuel said he still supports the proposed legislation but understands that Jefferson County is not ready for pay raises since it is in the midst of financial problems.
"I support the (12 percent salary increase) legislation being there, which would increase the salary of county commissioners to $42,000 if it's passed," Manuel said recently. "Just because the legislation is there, it doesn't mean we can do it. We definitely can't do it now because of our budgeting issues, and maybe not even next fiscal year. The problem is the economic growth money just isn't there and we still need $1.2 million."
Footnote: In response to the attempt to have the West Virginia State Legislature increase the salaries of county elected officials by 12%, Delegate Kump proposed (HJR 102) that the salaries of county elected officials instead be determined by the county commissions or council BUT that those salary determinations be conditional on a referendum approval of local county voters in the following General election.