Politics & Government

Mecklenburg commissioners raise their own pay in 6-2 vote

Despite criticism from educators, Mecklenburg County commissioners voted 6-2 Tuesday night to increase their take-home pay from $30,252 to $43,371.
Despite criticism from educators, Mecklenburg County commissioners voted 6-2 Tuesday night to increase their take-home pay from $30,252 to $43,371. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Despite criticism from educators, Mecklenburg County commissioners voted 6-2 Tuesday night to increase their take-home pay from $30,252 to $43,371.

County Manager Dena Diorio said the changes were made to bring the county more in line with how Charlotte City Council members are compensated.

Commissioners Chair Trevor Fuller, a Democrat who voted for the increase, said the change was made to be more transparent.

The increase will take effect for the new fiscal year, in July.

“Many people have been characterizing it as a salary increase,” he said. “That’s not the purpose. The purpose was to be more transparent. There may be a small increase, but its intent is reflect what’s already been happening.”

Commissioners are paid with a mix of salary and expense allowances that they receive up front. They are allowed to keep the expense money whether or not it’s used for a specified purpose.

Commissioners now are paid $25,932 and are also given $4,320 for expenses. That brings their take-home pay to $30,252.

They are also allowed to be reimbursed up to $6,500 for travel. But that money is paid only when commissioners submit receipts for things such as hotel rooms and airfare.

Here is how the new plan will work:

▪ Their base pay of $25,932 will increase by 3 percent, which is the same raise that other county employees are receiving.

▪ Under the new plan, their general expense allowance will rise to $8,251. They will also get a new technology allowance of $4,410 and a car allowance of $4,000.

▪ Their new take-home pay will be $43,371.

▪ They will still be reimbursed for out-of-town travel, and the old cap of $6,500 will be gone.

Republicans Matthew Ridenhour and Jim Puckett voted against the higher pay. Republican Bill James didn’t attend the meeting.

Democrats George Dunlap, Pat Cotham, Dumont Clarke, Ella Scarborough, Vilma Leake and Fuller voted for the new compensation.

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.

Leake said her job may be considered part time, but it’s actually a full-time position in terms of how many hours she spends working.

“Don’t beat up on us,” she said during the debate. “I am not a part-time commissioner. I ask you not to condemn us.”

Ridenhour said he agrees that it’s not actually a part-time job. But he said commissioners “shouldn’t enrich ourselves.”

“We signed up knowing how much time (a commissioner) spends and how it pays,” he said.

Veronica Talton, vice president of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators, questioned the higher pay.

“How can you justify this when thousands of employees are being ignored with the previous supplements we asked you to grant us?” she said.

Leake said that the state – not the county – is primarily responsible for paying teachers.

As chair of the commissioners, Fuller will make more than his colleagues. Under the current plan, the chair’s compensation is $37,096. The chair is also reimbursed for out-of-town travel up to $6,500. The chair’s new compensation will rise to $50,409.

The chair will still be reimbursed for out-of-town travel.

County staff compared the chair’s compensation to that of Charlotte’s mayor, who is paid $43,832. Mayor Jennifer Roberts is also reimbursed for out-of-town travel.

A City Council member’s compensation is $31,572. They are also reimbursed for travel.

Tuesday’s vote on compensation was part of an overall vote on the county’s $1.7 billion budget.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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