Mecklenburg has highest-paid sheriff in NC

Mecklenburg County now has the state’s highest-paid sheriff, but the person who soon will be elected to succeed him is expected to get a smaller paycheck.

Sheriff Chipp Bailey’s total annual pay – $182,417 – includes a base salary of about $175,000 and longevity pay of about $6,700. He is not running for re-election this year.

County commissioners voted last year to set the minimum salary for the next elected sheriff much lower: $112,800. But the person who is elected sheriff in November – either Democrat Irwin Carmichael or Republican Chris Hailey – could earn more.

County Manager Dena Diorio said she does not yet know what the next sheriff will make. But she said she will set his salary based on factors including experience and education, and what heads of comparable-sized departments typically earn.

A recent county review of comparable positions found that the market rate for heads of large departments, such as the Sheriff’s Office, is about $159,500.

“If we were to treat them like other department directors, we would bring them as close to market pay as we could,” Diorio said.

With 1,300 employees, Bailey runs the state’s largest sheriff’s office. He also manages about 1,700 inmates – the largest jail population between Atlanta and northern Virginia, he said.

Bailey stepped in as sheriff in 2008, when he was appointed to succeed Jim Pendergraph. He has served with the Sheriff’s Office for about 20 years and with the county for more than 40 years.

Asked whether anyone should be surprised that Bailey is the state’s best-paid sheriff, Diorio said: “It’s about size and scope. He manages a very large and complex system. So I think that makes sense. It takes a large skill set. (Bailey) has been very effective.”

The county manager determines the sheriff’s annual pay increases by examining a variety of performance metrics, including financial management and employee satisfaction. Usually, the raises are comparable to those received by most other county employees.

Diorio recently approved a 4 percent raise for Bailey, which will take effect on Oct. 1 – about two months before he leaves office. Under county rules, Bailey will be eligible to take his raise as a onetime payment of about $6,400, said county Human Resources Director Chris Peek.

Bailey is paid “a heck of a lot of money, but they’re running a department with a lot of employees,” said county commissioner Bill James. “To me, it’s less about money and more about having someone in the position who’s responsible.”

The sheriff’s race pits Carmichael, an unpaid reserve deputy for the Sheriff’s Office who runs a martial arts training center, against Hailey, the director of public safety training at Central Piedmont Community College.

Hailey has said he wants to decentralize Mecklenburg’s jail, opening up satellite offices in the northern and southern parts of the county so police officers spend less time driving criminals to jail and more time policing the streets.

Carmichael has said he wants to try to lower the recidivism rate by improving the jail’s education and vocational programs.

That the next sheriff’s pay is not yet set could cause confusion among voters and turn pay into a campaign issue, James said.

“It could start a bidding war among the two candidates, as both vie to do the job for only $112,800,” he said.

(Raleigh) News & Observer staff writer Dan Kane contributed.

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