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WV Lawmakers look at ways to set county elected officials' pay

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CHARLESTON, WV -

Lawmakers are looking to other states for ways to consistently increase the salaries of elected county officials.

After a failed bill last year proposed by the Citizens Elected County Officials Compensation Commission, a resolution that was adopted asked the Legislature to study the issue.

At a Sept. 23 interim committee meeting, lawmakers debated several options.

One of the first questions was whether or not the Legislature was required to set the salary for elected county officials, and the answer was yes.

Brenda Thompson, counsel to the House Government Organization Committee, told lawmakers about the ways a few other states have structured commissions and committees to advise members of their state government about pay for county officials.

Thompson said in Colorado, 13 members of a commission, which includes three members of the public, studies county salaries and gives recommendations to its Legislature. The members are all appointed by the speaker and the president there, and the members who vote on raises cannot take the raises in that term unless the members are re-elected.

Thompson said Colorado generally enacts smaller, more regular salary adjustments, something a few members of the Legislature, along with Patti Hamilton of the West Virginia Association of Counties, said they support.

Thompson said they found a lot of similarities in other states' plans, but anything West Virginia enacts would be tailored to work with the Mountain State's other rules and regulations.

Hamilton told lawmakers county employees haven't had raises in eight years, and it's only been within the past two years they felt comfortable in asking.

She said her board of directors currently serves as the closest thing West Virginia has to a commission to set county employee pay. She said the members discuss the issues among themselves, and then prepare a bill themselves that they propose to lawmakers. Hamilton said the infrequent, large salary requests "tend to be a hard sell."

Hamilton explained there currently is a statewide restriction on county pay raises. The state auditor's office performs a revenue test to be sure the county  has enough new, increased revenue to cover the increases. She said by way of example the last raise was effective July 1, 2006, but it took Wirt County two or three years to be able to enact it.

Committee Chairman Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, closed the meeting by telling lawmakers it had been a good example of why interim committee meetings are important – to work out the kinks in potential legislation.

"Let's write this bill and get it right this time," Staggers said, to applause from county representatives in the audience.