Supervisors discuss salaries at budget meeting

Published 8:18 am Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Panola County supervisors wrangled with the issue of pay increases for Sheriff’s Office deputies and for themselves Monday in preparation for the adoption of a budget for fiscal year 2022-23.

The board took up budget discussions following its regular board meeting, going through each department and considering the pay increases requested. Many of the increases were modest amounts that supervisors believe can be included in the budget without the need for an increase in the ad valorem tax rate.

Supervisor pay increases and the always looming problem of more pay for Sheriff’s employees took up most of the discussion. Sheriff Shane Phelps asked for an increase of $6,000 for road deputies, and $1,500 a year raises for the department’s sergeants, lieutenants, and captains.

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Also requested were increases for jailers and for part-time deputies to $15 per hour. Supervisors individually told Phelps they knew his deputies are among the lowest paid officers in North Mississippi, and pay raises were high on their agenda, but as a group they steadfastly are against any budget increases that would require a tax hike.

Supervisors John Thomas, Earl Burdette, Chad Weaver, and Cole Flint several times in the discussions qualified statements they made in support of various pay increases or new hires with the understanding that their support was contingent on an operating budget that could be funded at the current rate of taxation.

Supervisor James Birge did not say he was against a tax increase, and supported the full slate of requested raises from each department. If passed as presented, more than a half million dollars would be added to the county payroll, funded by a large increase in the tax rate.

County Administrator Kate Victor, making notes of the supervisors’ various suggestions on pay increases and other budgetary items, will rework a proposed budget worksheet for another meeting this week that will show the board what can be approved, and what cannot be approved, while staying within the current budget parameters.

Far from a $6,000 raise, Sheriff’s Office employees (deputies and upper management) will probably end up with a $1 an hour raise, essentially a $2,000 raise for the year. Dispatchers, jailers, and other part-time employees will also see an increase, although it may not reach the $15 an hour goal the supervisors want.

Victor will adjust salary and wage numbers, figure taxes and retirement withholdings, and present a 12-month projection to supervisors before any final votes are taken.

“I’m for us talking about raises for everyone, especially the Sheriff’s Office, but understand that I’m against anything if we find out that we can’t do it without raising taxes,” said Thomas, followed by affirmative nods from most of the other board members.

“We appreciate anything you can do for us,” Phelps said. “It’s hard competing with other agencies for good people when they are paying so much more.”

Phelps will receive a pay increase himself in the upcoming budget, as set by the Mississippi Legislature. This year lawmakers in Jackson passed a measure that sets county sheriff pay according to county population.

Panola County, with a 2020 census population of 34,079 falls in the 34-45,000 category (barely) and sets Phelps salary at $95,000. His counterparts in counties with populations between 15,000 and 34,000 earn $90,000.

Supervisors may also receive a pay raise in the next budget, if they vote in favor. During Monday’s discussion, it was apparent that only Birge is in favor of a full funded supervisor pay (as allowed by law).

The others are either against any pay increase (John Thomas) or an increase of about $3,300, which would bring their annual salaries to $45,000. 

Because the county has a total assessed valuation of more than $300 million, but less than $1 billion, the supervisors may be compensated at a rate of $50,000 a year by state law. The lowest paid supervisors in the state can make $34,500 and the highest paid can receive $54,000 annually.

Supervisors are paid out of the county’s Bridge Fund and their pay doesn’t affect the general fund budget for monthly operating expenses. Supervisors’ total compensation is subsidized by the state through allocations to each county’s Bridge Fund.

Victor will give the supervisors new worksheets at their next budget meeting that will show actual costs of salary and wage adjustments.

Supervisors will vote on a new budget at the end of the month. Further details of budget items will follow in coming weeks.