Without a doubt, being an elected official is tough work. In addition to the long meetings that can drag into the night and tough votes on sensitive issues, they must routinely defend their decisions to constituents, residents -- and editorial boards. These smart, engaged individuals deserve to be appropriately compensated for their efforts and thanked for their work.
But a proposal to raise the pay of Beaufort County's elected and appointed officials is politically tone deaf and should not be approved at this time. It would be an affront to the county's many employees who also work hard but are facing stagnant pay and possible job losses.
Between 40 and 60 current county employees with salaried positions will lose their jobs by June. County leaders say it must be done to avoid a tax increase. It's unlikely that the goal can be reached through attrition alone.
Remaining employees will have to take up the slack, but won't get paid more for it. County workers were denied a cost-of-living increase for this fiscal year .
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As council member Laura Von Harter said, County Council should not consider giving its members a raise in these circumstances. Constituents would rightly view it as a greedy, self-serving move.
Some council members point out that an examination of pay for elected and appointed officials is overdue, even if council does not vote to raise compensation immediately. The pay raise possibility came up earlier this summer when council voted to supplement the state-paid salaries of its 13 magistrates to ensure all are paid equally. That led to a decision to reevaluate the pay for all of elected and appointed officials, including the auditor, clerk of court, coroner, probate judge, sheriff, treasurer and county council members.
We see no problem with conducting regular reviews of compensation. It's a good idea for any organization. But it should be a more thoughtful process than what has been done to date.
A subcommittee of council members is relying heavily on the S.C. Association of Counties' annual report on public officials' compensation, comparing pay in Beaufort County to Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Lexington, Spartanburg and York counties. Those counties have larger populations, Von Harter has said, but comparable numbers of employees and payrolls. The comparison shows that county council members' base pay of $11,000 per year is about $5,500 less than the median of the peer counties.
It may be that Beaufort County's government is too big for its population size, not that its public officials are underpaid.
The comparison also fails to take into account that Beaufort County Council members receive $40 for each of the 144 or so meetings they attend each year. That's another $5,760 in pay for which no comparison is available in the report. The subcommittee must determine those numbers to make a true apples-to-apples comparisons among counties.
If Beaufort County officials are found to be underpaid, County Council should wait for better financial times to increase their compensation. Pay raises for those at the top are inexcusable when pink slips are being handed out to those below. When the financial plight of the county's workers improves, then and only then should it also improve for those in elected and appointed positions.