Senator Jeff Kessler, in his column below, lets reader know of Senate Bill 168, which he sponsored.
"As currently written, the bill would increase salaries of county commissioners by $10,000, assessors by $10,000, prosecuting attorneys by $12,000, county sheriffs by $13,000, and county clerks and circuit clerks by $15,000," he writes.
We couldn't help but be taken aback by those figures. Perhaps some sort of raise is justified; we all appreciate a bit of a boost from time to time. But a $10,000-$15,000 boost?!
The beginning of the bill tries to give some justification to the measure. It says, "The Legislature finds that it has, since January 1, 2007, consistently and annually imposed upon the county commissioners, sheriffs, county and circuit clerks, assessors, and prosecuting attorneys in each county board, new and additional duties by the enactment of new provisions and amendments to this code. The new and additional duties imposed upon the aforesaid county officials by these enactments are such that they would justify the increases in compensation as provided in section four of this article, without violating the provisions of section thirty-eight, article VI of the Constitution of West Virginia."
We can't help but think that in the economic conditions this country and state have seen in the past six years, nearly all workers have seen additional duties required of them. Many of those, for the same economic reasons, have not seen financial compensation. Do you know how they're compensated? By still having a job. Many companies have downsized and those left taking up the slack are generally just glad to still have employment from which to get a paycheck.
West Virginia's unemployment rate in December, the most recent month reported, was 7.7 percent. In that same period Wetzel County had a dismal 11.4 percent unemployment rate. Yet our leaders in Charleston think it is a good time to give our county elected officials hefty raises.
Wetzel County's Statement of Salaries of Elected Officials for fiscal year July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012, is as follows: Commission, $34,980; County Clerk, $53,154; Circuit Clerk, $53,154; Assessor, $43,560 plus agricultural report of $4,356 and supplemental salary of $15,000 ($62,916 total); Sheriff, $43,560 and sheriff's commission on taxes of $15,000 ($58,560 total); and Prosecuting Attorney (part-time), $59,400. Putting these incomes into perspective, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in 2009 was $37,787 in Wetzel County and $37,423 in the state.
In all fairness, Kessler writes, "The bill, which I sponsored, stipulates that the pay raises are contingent on the counties having sufficient increases in revenue to cover the hikes."
Wetzel County's classification recently went from V to IV because valuations increased. They probably have the money to cover the salary increases. But should they? We don't think so.
Wetzel County Commissioners said they wanted to be sure residents knew they didn't lobby for the raises. But will they accept them if passed? That will remain to be seen.