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Commissioners, school board would receive raises in proposed budget

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — County employees won’t be the only ones receiving a cost-of-living raise if a proposed 2017-18 budget is passed without changes.

Members of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education could see small pay raises in the coming fiscal year. Like county employees, members of both boards are slated to receive a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase, County Manager Aaron Church confirmed Tuesday.

The cost-of-living increase also would apply to some of the county’s citizen boards — health, elections and social services.

It’s not the first time in recent history that the county commissioners and school board members have received a boost in pay. In prior budgets, county commissioners got cost-of-living raises at the same time as employees. In 2014, school board members received a raise. But next year will be the first time that the proposed budget specifically says that commissioners will receive the increase, Church said.

He called the boost in pay “prudent and reasonable.” Including commissioners in cost-of-living raises ensures that future members are not faced with providing large increases all at once.

“The board has not asked for an increase,” he said. “I suspect they do not want an increase. It’s not for this board. It is for the good of the county 10 or 15 years down the road, that we don’t have a board of commissioners who work a lot and all of a sudden find out they are the lowest paid in the state.”

He said county commissioners have not received any type of raise since he became county manager in 2014. In the years following the Great Recession, neither employees nor commissioners received cost-of-living increases.

The proposed cost-of-living increase would boost commissioner’s pay by $322. Currently, they make $12,861 per year. Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds makes slightly more than other commissioners — $15,434. As a result, Edds would see a $386 increase in yearly pay.

For his part, Edds said he could do without the raise.

“If it were up to me, we would forgo it,” he said. “My main concern, my total focus, has been on the employees because we just finished our pay study.”

Edds said he told Church he preferred not to receive a cost-of-living raise. However, Edds said he also understands Church’s argument — that commissioners in the future could be paid notably less than those in other North Carolina counties.

County Commissioner Mike Caskey put it another way: “Elected officials don’t like to give themselves raises, but after 10 years at the same thing people would be getting paid the same amount. If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it when everyone else is getting one.”

Currently, Rowan County commissioners are paid relatively close to what those in other counties receive. However, county commissioner pay varies widely across the state.

In Davidson County, for example, commissioners get $10,361 per year and $231 per meeting. In Stanly County, commissioners receive $10,960 per year. In larger areas, being a county commissioner pays as much as some full-time jobs. Buncombe County, for instance, pays its commissioners $26,475. The chairman of the board in Buncombe County receives $35,584.

None of the salary amounts includes travel stipends, which Rowan and many other counties provide commissioners.

Rowan-Salisbury school board members receive sharply less than commissioners in most counties. School board Chairman Josh Wagner receives $450 per month. Other school board members get $350 per month.

Wagner expressed an opinion similar to Edds’. He said he doesn’t believe there’s a correlation between pay for elected officials and the quality of candidates who run.

“I honestly don’t think that the (school) board should be given cost-of-living on a regular basis as if we were employees,” Wagner said.

Church’s proposed budget doesn’t explicitly list the Board of Education raises. However, Church said a description in his budget pertaining to county commissioners also applies to school board members — “every county employee and official, including seasonal, part-time, temporary, elected and appointed.” He said Kannapolis school board members also would be included in the increases.

Rowan-Salisbury school board members last received a raise in November 2014. County commissioners voted to increase pay from $200 per month to the current $350. The stipend for the school board chairman remained at $100 per month.

Church predicted that the county commissioners, once made aware they’re slated to receive a cost-of-living increase, will remove themselves from the proposal.

They could make a decision during their work session June 5, which is scheduled at 1 p.m. in the county administration building.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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