Columbia County’s sheriff will become the county’s highest-paid elected official if commissioners approve a proposal up for review next week.
A change in the base salary for the office will give Sheriff Clay Whittle an increase of $16,530 per year, raising his total compensation to $135,760, said County Administrator Scott Johnson.
That will put Whittle’s pay $163 higher than the current highest-paid official, Tax Commissioner Kay Allen.
“It’s a relatively significant pay raise,” Johnson said, and comes because of an effort to clear up a discrepancy in how the base salaries for the county’s elected officials are computed. Johnson said he noticed the disparity when preparing annual letters the commission office sends to elected officials, letting them know how much they’ll make based on cost of living adjustments. He then initiated the proposal to increase Whittle’s base salary.
A change at the state level several years ago raised the base pay for most elected officials to just more than $74,000, but left the sheriff’s base rate at about $53,000, Johnson said. Elected officials receive additional pay based on longevity and cost of living adjustments.
“Clay’s starting at a $20,000 disadvantage,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t equitable.”
Because the sheriff wasn’t included in the state legislation that changed other local officials’ pay, the easiest way to clear it up is to rewrite the local ordinance setting his base salary, Johnson said. A proposal to do that is set to be discussed Tuesday during the meeting of the County Commission’s Management and Financial Services Committee.
“I want to debate this in public,” rather than in a closed commission session, Johnson said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Johnson insisted Whittle didn’t ask for the raise.
“I didn’t realize it,” Whittle said when asked about the disparity in base pay. “But I appreciate what they’re doing.”
He laughed as he recalled that, when elected in 1995, he took a $14,000 pay cut from his previous role as chief deputy.
When he asked why, he was told he had significant longevity and subsequent cost of living adjustments as a chief deputy – but that he was a rookie sheriff.
Before running for the office, Whittle said, “I never asked, ‘how much does sheriff pay?’”
The Management and Financial Services Committee meets at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, in the Evans Government Center Auditorium.