Leaders might cut their own pay

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Marshall County's Budget Committee and other county leaders support a 10-percent reduction in their pay and for all departments' spending because of economic conditions, according to several commissioners.

Don Ledford was the first commissioner to raise the idea, Budget Committee Chairman Mickey King said after a non-voting committee workshop. Several department leaders have agreed to restrict spending and some are reportedly willing to receive lower pay.

The scheduled closure of Sanford's pencil factory here next winter and fear there might be another closure prompted commissioners to recall the property tax rate hike imposed by the county several years ago after ICP moved its production elsewhere. That rate hike was later reduced. It was imposed to counterbalance lost revenue from the factory's removal of equipment and jobs.

Cutting commissioners' pay is a symbolic gesture since the effect would be approximately $7,100 in a multi-million dollar budget. However, it's presented as an example when county department heads are asked to cut their budget requests to 10 percent less than what was authorized last summer.

"If we were going to ask that of the department heads, we needed to be the first ones to step up," King said Friday morning. "And last night we made the suggestion to turn the heat down and make sure the lights are off, and catch a ride and see where we can buy something at a cheaper piece."

Commissioner Ledford's pay cut suggestion stems from his thinking in the fall of 2007 when commissioners voted to increase their own pay. Ledford said it should take effect after the August 2010 election, but that proposal was rejected.

"We all ran in 2006 for a four-year term and knew what the pay was," Ledford said. "It was unfair to get into office and vote your self a raise.

"The pay we receive doesn't cover the person's time, but ... I did feel commissioners needed more for their time.

"Everybody knows we're in difficult times. There are layoffs. Marshall County has experienced that with Sanford and hopefully that's the extent of it," Ledford said.

Meanwhile, commissioners decided to ask all department leaders to prepare a budget for the next fiscal year with spending plans that are 10 percent lower than what was approved last summer. The county's fiscal year is from July 1 through June 30, but preparation for that starts now.

So, as Ledford thought about it, he concluded: "If we're going to ask our department heads to cut, then we have to start with ourselves.

"As far as the budget committee was concerned, I think everyone was on board," Ledford said.

That includes Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill who agrees, leaders "have to take steps" to deal with the anticipated reduction in revenue and noted everybody was "willing to do their part."

However, state law sets the salaries of various county officials from the mayor and sheriff on to clerks, the trustee, register, assessor and similarly situated leaders. Their salaries are based on county population in a formula set by state lawmakers.

What would happen with regard to that part of those departments' budgets remained unknown, but Ledford had already addressed that with his own rate of pay last year.

Ledford donates his pay raise to the county library and to the Mooresville Fire Department.

"I took the difference in what I was getting and what it was bumped up to," he said.

Every other month, he gives money to the library and the other months' raise goes to the fire department.

Commissioners' pay used to be based on amounts paid for attending meetings. Now it's one eighteenth of the county mayor's pay, so when his goes up, their's does, too.

From memory, Ledford calculated a commissioner's pay at $330 per month. The 18 commissioners' are paid $71,280 annually, so their sacrifice of 10 percent would lower county spending by $7,128.

"I'm probably not making minimum wage," Ledford said.

Commissioner Richard Medley suggested commissioners work for half pay, according to King.

Commissioner Billy Spivey took it further.

"We ought to forego our pay for a year. Do it for free for a year," Spivey said.

An exact statement on the anticipated impact of Sanford's closing was not immediately available. That, however, is a property tax revenue question. Worker job losses would have an impact on the local economy and therefore local government revenue.