Law would allow lower elected official salaries

Historic City News has learned that five St. Johns County commissioners take well over a quarter-million dollars in salaries – plus a package of benefits that includes county-paid health care and pension contributions – as compensation for their duties; that, at one time, a former three-term commissioner recalls paid about $400 a month.

Each St. Johns County commissioner’s base salary is $62,495, but, that is one part of the annual budget they do not control; since, under existing Florida law, commissioners and the five elected constitutional officer’s salaries are fixed based on the population of the county.

The average yearly wage for men and women who lived in St. Johns County in 2009 was about $35,759; according to the Advameg, Inc., statistical databases reported on city-data.com.

Politics being what it is, faced with demands for budget cuts that include unpaid furloughs for county employees, reduced or eliminated funding for county programs as well as reduced support for non-profit community services, Chairman Joseph “Ken” Bryan can stand publically before the taxpayers and commissioners and safely shed crocodile tears for the plight of others — knowing that his own $62,495+ salary can’t be touched.

That may soon change.

A House bill that will allow elected officials to reduce their own pay has been introduced by Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach. Mayfield was quoted in an article that appeared in the Gainesville Sun which says that a companion bill will be sponsored in the Senate by Hillsborough County Republican Ronda Storms.

The bill would allow county commissioners and elected constitutional officers across the state the ability on an individual basis to voluntarily lower their own salaries.

St. Johns County constitutional officers are potentially impacted by the proposed law. The highest paid elected official is the Sheriff, whose annual base salary is $131,538; the lowest paid is the Supervisor of Elections, whose annual base salary is $104,241. The others, Clerk of Court, Tax Collector and Property Appraiser, each are paid an annual base salary of $122,711.

“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% in recent years. It has gone from $31,932 in 2007 to the current $29,697.

According to Gainesville Sun staff writer Christopher Curry, when discussing the proposed state law with Alachua County Commissioner Susan Baird, she 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 commissioner was less than half the $150,000 she made as a full-time real estate agent.

“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 was reported to say.

Some elected officials see no harm in the proposed law. On one hand, the decision whether or not to reduce your own pay would be voluntary.

On the other hand, elections could turn into “bidding wars” with candidates campaigning on who would take the lowest pay. “Vote for me because I’m the cheapest.”

Of course, the people highest paid with St. Johns County taxpayer’s money are not elected officials — they are appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. Administrator Michael Wanchick earns $170,000 and County Attorney Patrick McCormack earns $156,558.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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