Baldwin County’s former revenue commissioner has been asking for a pay raise, even though he retired more than a decade ago.
Phil Nix spent 24 years in the position of revenue commissioner and tax collector when, after a controversial surge in property tax appeals, he opted not to seek reelection in 2008. But twice over the past five months — about a year since he became eligible to collect his $49,600 annual supernumerary retirement compensation — Nix has petitioned the Baldwin County Commission to raise the cap on his plan. He wants an additional $17,900.
Supernumerary retirement compensation for elected county officials is a relic of the 1970s, and reportedly Nix is one of only two or three officials in Baldwin County who still claim it. State law once prohibited elected officials at the county level from participating in the state retirement system, so instead, the Legislature provided supernumerary status to some county commissioners, revenue and license commissioners, sheriffs and district attorneys.
According to the law, supernumerary status was awarded to those county officials who held elected office for 12 or more years. In the lowest tier, supernumerary retirement compensation equals 60 percent of the average compensation for 12 years of service, 65 percent for 14 years of service, 70 percent for 16 years of service and 75 percent for 18 or more years of service.
However, the statute caps the compensation at $49,600, unless a county commission votes to lift the cap and award the percentage instead. In Nix’s case, he made $90,000 per year as revenue commissioner. If he successfully petitioned the county commission to lift the cap, he would receive $67,500 per year.
With reports that some former elected officials were paid six-figure salaries after retirement and concerns the supernumerary funding was not sustainable for county budgets in the long haul, counties across Alabama began to repeal supernumerary retirement in the late 1990s and state law has since been amended to allow county officials to access the state retirement system.
In exchange for the retirement package, supernumerary officials essentially “serve for life,” according to the law. But in reality, they do little or no work unless called upon. Nix has not been called upon since he left office, he said.
“I’m the last [supernumerary] because we did away with it 10-to-15 years ago,” he said. “I was still on supernumerary when it was grandfathered in. Basically, I’m an appointed official by the governor and I would step in if something happened to the revenue commissioner and I would fill his role until his term ends or until I am replaced by someone being voted in or appointed.”
Nix admitted he earns more on supernumerary retirement than he would on the state retirement system, but because the law allows it, he thought he’d ask for the money that’s been left on the table.
“When [the Legislature] initially set up the supernumerary compensation they put a cap on what the supernumerary can make,” Nix explained. “At the time you could have individuals making $100,000 to $300,000, so they put a cap on what you got.”
After initially declining to put the item on its agenda last year, on Jan. 19, the Baldwin County Commission formally denied Nix’s request.
“One of [the commissioners] thought I needed to [work] more and others said they thought the cap was enough,” Nix said.
Nix said he also pitched an alternative plan for the commission to add him to its employee health care plan. Again the commission declined.
“Being an appointed official, you’re supposed to receive the same benefits of what is given to the other officials in the county,” he said. “I’m technically an official and there are attorney general opinions out there saying if the county provided health care to other officials, I’m also entitled to a health care plan.”
Nix said he wasn’t discouraged by the commission’s denial and he would be willing to work with them on other options.
“I can go back anytime and ask again,” he said.
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