CHARLESTON - This time it was phoned in to SpeakOut, but it's a question that comes up regularly: Just how much do county commissioners make?
The state Legislature sets the salary scale for all county elected officials in Missouri based on the county's assessed valuation, according to Junior DeLay, county clerk in Mississippi County.
Each county's salary commission, made up of its current elected officials, meets every odd-numbered year by Nov. 30 to determine salary levels for officials who will be elected in the following year, he explained. For example, salaries for terms that begin Jan. 1 were voted on in 2001.
"All the salary commission does is vote on a percentage of the scale," said DeLay, noting the salary commission can not set different percentages for individual offices. "I know our county commissioners thought the scale was a little high for their position."
DeLay said the salary commission in Mississippi County set their salaries at 90 percent of scale four years ago and gave the county commission the authority to increase the percentage with cost of living increases. DeLay said elected officials can receive smaller cost of living increases than given to county employees, but not higher increases.
With the cost of living increases over the last couple of years, elected official salaries in Mississippi County are presently at 99.6 percent of scale.
"We're close to 100 percent but not quite there yet," said DeLay. "I think we're the only county in Southeast Missouri that's at less than 100 percent."
Scott County Clerk Rita Milam confirmed Scott County salaries are at 100 percent of scale. Being in the $300 million and over assessed valuation category, the presiding commissioner in Scott County makes $31,700 and the associate commissioners get $29,700.
Jim Farrenburg, county clerk for New Madrid, said with an assessed valuation of $373,232,582 and also being at 100 percent of scale, commissioner salaries in his county are the same as those in Scott County.
With Mississippi County's assessed valuation being between $100 million and $131 million, scale for associate commissioners is $25,080, according to DeLay, and scale for the presiding commissioner is $27,080. For county offices that are considered more full-time such as the assessor, collector, recorder and county clerk, scale is a bit higher at $38,000.
DeLay said that at all levels of government, legislators like county commissioners and state representatives are not always "in session" but must be readily available for their constituents.
"They get phone calls at night time, they go travel the county in the daytime, if there is a problem any time they have to go address it," said DeLay. "They are on call 24-7, 365 days per year."
"They meet here two days a week from 9-12," said Farrenburg of the New Madrid County commissioners. "And of course they have the phone calls at day time and at night. The job entails more than the public realizes."
Many county commissioners in the area such as Mississippi County Presiding Commissioner Jim Blumenberg or Scott County Commissioner Walter Bizzell are business owners which allows them to set their own hours so they can be available for county business in addition to weekly or twice-weekly meetings.
Jamie Burger, associate commissioner in Scott County, said his employer, Lone Star, has been very supportive of him during his term and his supervisory position there has provided flexibility in his schedule without forcing him to cut back on his hours. Also, living in the county seat has enabled him to respond quickly if something unexpected does comes up.
Burger said while the time requirements for a county commissioner are about what he expected, he was surprised by a wider scope of duties than anticipated. "We basically have to take care of everything," said Burger. "Just about everything that happens in the county runs through this office."
Burger said he spent Wednesday morning inspecting culverts and roads in Chaffee before meeting with the county highway department supervisor.
Being an elected official, "the better job you do the more likely you are to get re-elected and keep your job," DeLay pointed out.
"There is nothing in the law that says any position has to devote 'x' amount of hours to the job," said DeLay. "If there is something that needs to be done in the realm of your responsibility, it needs to get done whether you do it yourself or you have your staff do it."