Pay raise for Mississippi sheriffs up to governor

Published 10:33 am Wednesday, March 12, 2014

JACKSON (AP) – A big pay raise for Mississippi’s 82 sheriffs is close to becoming law.

The Senate on Tuesday passed House Bill 1409, which would raise pay for sheriffs, and sent it to Gov. Phil Bryant for his consideration.

Depending on a county’s population, pay currently ranges from $55,000 to $90,000. The bill would raise pay to a range of $75,000 to $99,000.

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The measure would collapse seven current pay brackets into five.

Under the proposal, sheriffs in counties with fewer than 15,000 people would make $75,000 a year, while those in counties ranging from 15,000 to 34,000 people would make $80,000.

In counties with 34,000 to 45,000 residents, sheriffs would make $85,000, while those in counties with 45,000 to 100,000 people would make $90,000. Finally, in the state’s largest counties, with more than 100,000 people, sheriffs would make $99,000.

Lincoln County’s population as of the 2010 census was 34,900.

“It’s been a lot of years since the sheriffs saw a pay raise,” said Pike County Sheriff Mark Shepherd, president of the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association. “We work 24/7.”

Proponents of the bill said an earlier $10 increase in process-serving fees was meant to finance pay increases, but legislation to mandate it was never enacted.

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, said there will be no cost to taxpayers because these fees have been collected for years.

“The sheriffs have been saying this for a while – that they did not want to cost taxpayers any more money, and so the fees were put into place to create the funds necessary,” she said.

“This money has been collected for years, and has gone into the county’s general fund. The problem is that the legislation needed to direct the funds to sheriffs was never written. I think it is time we used the money for what it was intended for, and that’s why I was behind the bill,” Currie said.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said the new bill is a redirection of funds.

“It’s not an increase in funding,” said Gunn. “It just redirects the funds to the sheriffs, which is where it was originally intended to go.”

A number of senators, though, questioned whether small counties would be able to afford increases as large as $20,000 a year without raising taxes. They noted that counties are already spending the earlier fee increase and that in some counties it may not generate enough money to cover the proposed raise.

Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp, tried to amend the bill to allow county supervisors to approve the raise, but failed.

“You’re going to give the board of supervisors the power to say you can’t have it because we don’t like you,” said Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton. “Is that what you’re asking us to vote for?

“I’m asking you to allow the board of supervisors to approve a pay raise that will quite likely cause a tax increase,” Jackson replied.

Proponents, though, argued that sheriffs in small counties may work more than those in large counties.

“A sheriff in a very small county probably has a very small department and he probably has a lot more demands on his time,” said Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven.

Derrick Surette, the executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said his group doesn’t have an official position on the bill.

“There are a lot of supervisors out there in smaller counties who have some concerns,” he said.

Supervisors and tax collectors are also in line for raises under bills being considered. Supervisors would be allowed to vote to increase their pay by 10 percent, but raises would only take effect after the next election. Sheriff’s raises would start July 1.

(Daily Leader Lifestyles Editor Rhonda Dunaway and Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report.)