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Delegation sets salaries for elected county officials

April 26, 2012
OSSIPEE — The Carroll County Delegation set to work recently setting the salaries for the county attorney, sheriff, commissioners, treasurer and registrar of deeds.

The discussion in large part was less about numbers and more about the perceived salary inequality between the elected officials and employees of the county, how the elected official salaries compare to employees doing the same work in the private sector, and how elected official's salaries in Carroll County compare to salaries in other counties.

The 14-member county delegation is made up of the state representatives elected in Carroll County. At the county level, they are charged with setting the annual budget for the county, including the official's salaries and approving capital expenditures.

The delegation voted to keep the current policy in force that states the registrar, sheriff, and county attorney are eligible to have single-person health care coverage paid for by the county taxpayers in addition to their annual salary.

The county attorney's salary was increased from $70,000 to $72,100, putting his salary just above his highest paid deputy attorney. The department has three other attorneys who are paid $50,000, $60,000, and $70,000 based on their experience and longevity with the department. Attorney Tom Dewhurst had asked for more of an increase and also asked to be paid extra in lieu of the fact that he does not take the health care benefit. Some members of the delegation agreed that the idea of payment in lieu of benefits is a good one but ultimately decided that was not something they could do in their meeting but an idea that would take further study, to be addressed at a later time.

Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) spoke against all pay increases for elected officials. He spoke at greatest length against the raise for the county attorney. He pointed out that the county attorney, in addition to being the county prosecutor, is allowed to have a private civil law practice on the side, thus generating further income. He also spoke against giving any payment in lieu of benefits.

Frank McCarthy (R-Conway) cautioned his fellow delegates against giving major increases to the elected officials when the regular employees of the county were given just a 30 cent increase in this year's budget. "We just gave the workers of the county a 30-cent raise. People are going to look at loyalty as a two-way street. If you want to get loyalty you have to give loyalty…be very careful with raises for elected officials," he said.

Carroll County Sheriff Chris Conley spoke harshly to the delegates about the historical practice of setting salaries in a manner just to keep the bottom line of the annual budget as level as possible.

"When I drill down into county government, the level of mediocrity and casual indifference is shocking. If you're going to change county government and be transformational, you have to make the job attractive to the best people out there. This decade after decade of thirty-cent increases or whatever they happen to be often based upon Mr. McConkey's position that it's an elected position and if you don't like it, leave it. I think that is a fatal flaw. I ask you to reconsider some of the past practices," he said.

Though the delegation did not delve into it at their April 16 meeting, comments during the meeting would indicate that there may be much disparity between the salaries of Carroll County elected officials and employees and salaries of those in other counties and in the private sector.

The sheriff's salary was voted in at $62,186 plus a $250 annual allotment for the purchase and cleaning of uniforms or work wear.

How much work the individual commissioners put into their job is apparently a non-issue as all three commissioners earn an annual salary of $10,500 each. McCarthy motioned to change that practice, giving the chair of the commission an extra $500. McConkey spoke against it saying anyone who can vote and walk the earth can be elected as a commissioner and the pay is sufficient. Delegates ended up voting down the idea, keeping the commissioner's salary the same at $10,500 for the next two years.

The county treasurer salary remains level at $4,725 and the county registrar receives an increase to $45,000.

McCarthy also raised concerns about the salaries of the top earners. He said of the top 10 highest paid employees of the county, only one is an elected official. The county attorney takes tenth place on the list, of the nine remaining; eight work at the nursing home and one is the jail superintendent. McCarthy's assertion could not be verified for this article. A right-to-know request was filed with the county business office April 2 asking for that list, along with a list of several other unrelated documents. As of press time, the right-to-know request had not been fulfilled.

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