Bill lets leaders control salary

A proposed law would let counties' elected officials reduce their own pay


Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 10:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 10:34 p.m.

A proposed state law touches on one of the hot-button issues of last year's lengthy and often-contentious Charter Review Commission debates: the salaries of counties' elected officials.

Facts

What they earn

Current salaries of Alachua County government elected officials:

Sheriff: $135,733

Property Appraiser, Tax Collector and Clerk of Courts: $127,137

Supervisor of Elections: $108,762

County Commissioner: $70,990

A bill sponsored by Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, would allow county commissioners and elected constitutional officers across the state the ability on an individual basis to voluntarily lower their own salaries.

In most counties, salaries for those officials are currently determined by a population-based formula set by the state.

“We are mandating to them what their salary has to be,” Mayfield said. “We should give them the flexibility in tight budget times to cut their salaries, if they choose to do so.”

She noted that legislators in both the Florida Senate and House have cut their own pay by 7 percent in recent years. It has gone from $31,932 in 2007 to the current $29,697.

During several months of Charter Review Commission deliberations last year, several proposals submitted by residents sought to lower the salaries of elected officials, particularly county commissioners.

While several other charter counties across the state have established local control over commissioners' pay, the legal opinion from the Charter Review Commission's contracted attorney was that Alachua County did not have the authority to vary from the population-based formula in state law because its charter was not approved by a special act of the Florida Legislature.

Proposed amendments that made it onto the ballot but did not pass sought to get around that. One would have transformed the County Commission into a Charter Commission. If that had passed, another proposed change would have had commissioners' salaries set by local ordinance.

Discussing the proposed state law, County Commissioner Susan Baird said she wants to cut the county's budget, but has no plans to start with her own salary. Baird noted that her $70,990 salary as a board member was less than half the $150,000 she made as a full-time Realtor.

“If the salary would have been less than what it is right now, I never would have run because it is a pay cut, a significant one,” Baird said.

Property Appraiser Ed Crapo was ambivalent about the proposed law. On one hand, he saw no harm since the decision whether or not to reduce your own pay would be voluntary. On the other hand, he had concerns that elections could turn into “bidding wars” with candidates campaigning on who would take the lowest pay.

“It raises a bunch of questions,” Crapo said. “I don't like the bidding war aspect of it: ‘Vote for me because I'm the cheapest.' ”

Crapo also wondered if the pay reduction would affect retirement benefits.

Mayfield said Hillsborough County Republican Ronda Storms will sponsor the bill in the Florida Senate.

A law passed in 2009 already allows school board members to voluntarily reduce their salaries.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com.

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