Baldwin County commissioners will get raises of about 50 percent thanks to a bill passed during the chaotic last week of the Legislature’s regular session.
The exact amount of the raise is unclear. Current salaries are $33,600. The commission chairman, currently Chris Elliott, receives an additional $5,000 because the position includes executive, administrative and ceremonial duties.
Using a formula, the new salaries will be tied to Baldwin County’s median family income and could go up to $50,000 or more. Every four years at the end of a term, the salaries would be recalculated and could rise or fall depending how well the income of Baldwin citizens has fared.
“I just thought it was deserved,” said Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Gulf Shores, the chief sponsor of the bill. “If someone is going to run countywide in as large a county as Baldwin, it really is a full-time job.”
The commissioners did not ask for the additional compensation, McMillan said, although they did thank him for it. “I just felt like it was time for it to be done. It hasn’t been done in years.”
The new salaries are effective when the next term begins in 2018. In future years, the reset of the salaries will also be effective with the new commissioner terms.
The salary structure is similar to that of the Legislature, which several several years ago gave itself hefty pay raises tied to the state’s median income level for a family. The move drew widespread criticism at the time because of the state’s overall financial condition.
Currently, the median family income of $50,524 for Baldwin County dates to 2015, according to U.S. Census data and other sources.
Here’s how the new salaries will be calculated, according to the bill. It will be the average of the median annual household income in Baldwin County for the previous four years, as ascertained and adjusted by the Alabama Department of Labor. The $5,000 in additional compensation for the commission chairman will remain as is.
Anyone who prefers not to accept the raise may choose to donate it instead.
The bill was not introduced until early April. Longtime County Commissioner Frank Burt said he did not learn it had passed until Friday morning. He said he did not push local legislators to work for the raise, but said he also thinks the commission deserved it.
“I think the job has grown so tremendously,” Burt said. “It’s a full-time job.”
Population growth calls for more roads, and the commission is spending more time on development-related issues such as subdivisions and zoning, he said.
Although the raise came up rather quickly as the session was coming to an end, it wasn’t a new idea, Burt said. Four years ago the Legislature set out to enact a similar bill. Because the raise was discussed in County Commission work sessions, it quickly drew opposition, Burt said.
Second, there was an amendment to the bill that inadvertently set the maximum raise at 4 percent every four years, he said. The commission sought an attorney general’s opinion on that point and were told the resulting opinion interpreted the language as limiting the raises to that amount. That is what the commission received, Burt said.
As often happens when a legislative session is ending with a rush to get bills passed, items such as the commissioners’ salary increase come to light later. This year, raises of $20,000 each also went to the sheriff and revenue commissioner. The sheriff has been making $95,794 for many years, while the revenue commissioner has been making $90,000.
Also passing in the final week was the controversial school funding bill in which School Superintendent Eddie Tyler and commissioners restructured sales taxes to deliver more road money to the commission and a permanent source of revenue to the schools.
Although both the commission and the school board were mostly happy with the plan, not all citizens were. Some thought the plan was deliberately kept quiet, some thought the schools gave up too much money to the commission and some believed there should have been a public vote on any tax issues.