Even as Beaufort County government is poised to cut 40 or more jobs from its payroll, County Council is considering pay raises for appointed and elected officials -- including themselves.
The timing is not lost on at least one council member.
"My gut feeling is that we've had to cut services for the coming year and we're talking about cutting about 40 employees," Laura Von Harten said Monday at a meeting of a Compensation Subcommittee that she is leading. "To suggest pay raises just seems like it might be the wrong time."
However, some of Von Harten's fellow council members say an examination of pay for county officials is overdue -- and important work even if the council does not vote to raise compensation immediately.
The subcommittee, which also includes council members Cynthia Bensch and Stu Rodman, eventually will report its findings to the council's Finance Committee so that it can consider adjusting the county's salary schedules.
In addition to council members, the subcommittee will consider raises for the county auditor, clerk of court, coroner, probate judge, sheriff, treasurer and magistrates. It might also consider raises for the state-appointed county master in equity, Veterans Affairs officer and elections board members.
The discussion comes on the heels of a council decision to deny a cost-of-living increase for county employees this fiscal year. County administrator Gary Kubic also has said the county must eliminate 40 to 60 salaried positions by June to keep the budget balanced without a tax increase.
The possibility of pay increases arose earlier this summer, when County Council voted to supplement state salaries of magistrates to ensure each are paid equally. The state sets a salary for magistrates and pays only a percentage of that figure to the judges during their first four years on the job. The council chose to supplement those salaries to equalize magistrates' pay.
The council justified the supplement for its 13 magistrates because they share the court's caseload equally and are highly qualified. All of the magistrates have advanced degrees and nine are attorneys, according to Chief Magistrate Lawrence McElynn.
In fairness to those in other positions, County Council decided to reevaluate all elected and appointed officials' salaries, including its own, Von Harten said.
The subcommittee will refer to the S.C. Association of Counties' annual report on public officials' compensation and compare Beaufort to Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Lexington, Spartanburg and York counties, Von Harten said. Those counties have slightly larger populations, but comparable numbers of employees and payrolls, she added.
Relative to those peers, county salaries for public officials here fall thousands of dollars short, according to the report. For example, Coroner Ed Allen's salary of about $70,000 is well below the $80,000 median salary of those other counties, according to the report.
Compensation for council members also falls short of those peers, according to the report. Council members get a base of $11,000 each year, about $5,500 lower than the median the selected peer counties, according to report figures. However, the report does not include any stipends members in each county might receive for attending meetings, according to the association.
In Beaufort County, council members also receive a $40 stipend for each meeting they attend, up to 144 meetings in a year. That means a council member could make another $5,760 in annual compensation, county attorney Josh Gruber said.
Should the council approve an increase to its own salaries, the raise is unlikely to take effect immediately after the general election in November, Gruber said. Council rules state that any salary increase for council will take effect after the next election cycle, he said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.