County commissioners criticized for big pay increases

Jackson County commissioners defended themselves today against pointed criticism over a 26 percent salary hike they approved recently.

"It's a politically boneheaded decision," said radio talk show host Bill Myers, one of several people who criticized the pay increases at the commissioners' weekly meeting. "I think you shot yourself in the foot."

He said commissioners should have phased in the increase for elected officials over several years, particularly given the condition of the economy.

The commissioners approved new salaries for most of the county's nine elected officials, including themselves, after a report prepared by a salary committee found a great disparity between how much they earn compared with department heads and other managers. The increases were approved by the county budget committee.

Commissioners' salaries will increase from $68,432 to $86,341 annually. The assessor's salary will increase from $81,224 to $86,341, the county clerk's from $74,110 to $77,238, the district attorney's from $118,779 to $119,568, the justice of the peace's from $39,666 to $55,661, the sheriff's from $88,421 to $104,936 and the surveyor's from $65,603 to $68,372.

Altogether, the salary increases for elected officials add an extra $98,040 to the county's $290 million annual budget.

Commissioner C.W. Smith said he stands by the decision to raise salaries and said he would vote for the raise again if it came before him. He said commissioners have too long avoided raising salaries because of the potential for political fallout, but he wouldn't shy away from making that decision no matter what the consequences.

"I've got the biggest target right here," said Smith, pointing to his chest. "I'm running for office."

— Damian Mann

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