Mecklenburg County commissioners have tentatively approved a plan that would boost their overall compensation 16 percent by increasing money for their expenses.
The increase would include a new $4,000 auto allowance.
Commissioners approved the change Tuesday, but it won’t take effect until they take a formal vote on the budget next Tuesday.
Under the plan, the commissioners’ base pay of $25,932 will increase 3 percent – the same as county employees.
Commissioners now are given $4,320 for expenses and $6,500 for travel and technology. Their total compensation is $36,752.
Under the plan, their general expense allowance would rise to $8,251. Their technology allowance would be $4,410.
The new total compensation would be $42,593.
Commissioners’ jobs are considered part time, but hundreds of county employees, including sheriff’s deputies and social workers, make less than $42,000 a year for full-time work.
In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which gets almost one-third of its budget from the county, almost 7,900 full-time employees earn less than $42,000, including teachers, assistants, bus drivers, custodians and school security staff. Teachers must accumulate 10 years’ experience before they top $42,000 a year on the CMS pay scale.
Erlene Lyde, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, called the total compensation package for commissioners exorbitant. She noted that commissioners have not been receptive to requests to provide more county money to raise the wages of low-paid staff and supplement teacher pay.
“They’re making more than our beginning teachers. That’s ridiculous,” Lyde said.
A county memo compared a commissioner’s total compensation of $36,752 with that of a City Council member, $31,572. The city number includes allowances for expenses, technology and a car.
The commissioners chairman, who is now Trevor Fuller, would see total compensation rise from $43,596 to $49,437.
The county compared that compensation to that of the Charlotte mayor, whose total compensation is $43,832.
Democrat Pat Cotham, who voted for the expense change Tuesday, said it was a difficult decision. She would have voted against increasing her pay, but county manager Dena Diorio told commissioners that voting against the proposal would not change the budget.
“She said, if you don’t change this, we won’t change the budget,” Cotham said. “The money is still allotted.”
The commissioners, who control the county’s budget, could allocate the money to another use.
A year ago, commissioners discussed increasing their salary but decided against it.
School board members make significantly less than county commissioners and City Council members: $17,287 for the board chair and $13,298 for other board members. They get an expense allowance of $5,650 for the chair and $4,450 for other members, bringing total compensation to $22,937 for the chair and $17,748 for other members.
All three groups of elected officials are considered part time, and board Chair Mary McCray said she isn’t sure why there’s such a pay difference.
This year CMS had asked county commissioners for a $23 million increase, but the plan that has been tentatively approved provides less than half of that.
McCray said she’s watching how the public reacts to the commissioners’ increase for themselves, and whether commissioners actually approve the new allowance.
“They had such a tight budget when it came to doing things for children here,” she said.