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County hears salary cut proposal; sheriff candidate voices opposition

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

The chairman of the Fayette County Board last Thursday broached the idea of lowering the salaries of individuals elected to county offices for the first time.
Among those questioning such a proposal was one of this year’s candidates for sheriff.
Chairman Steve Knebel told board members he would like them to think about cutting by percentage the salaries paid to newly elected officials. This year, that would include those elected sheriff and county clerk.
“There are pros and cons,” Knebel said. “Some of the thought is, somebody new coming in, you come in at a different level (than an experienced employee) – that’s business,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea or a bad idea,” he said, asking board members to think about it in advance of the March board meeting.
John Blythe and Troy Pattillo asked why the board couldn’t set the salary for a specific county officer based on that person’s experience, but Knebel said that’s not legal.
“We set the salary for the position, not the person,” Knebel said.
Joe Kelly said he didn’t favor such a plan. “I don’t see a reason to step down (the salary). It wouldn’t be fair,” Kelly said. “I would like to give them a raise.”
John Daniels Jr. brought up one of the cons of such a plan.
“If you set it too low … we’re going to be giving employees raises every year,” Daniels said. At some point, those employees “could be making more than the office holder.”
Knebel said that he realizes that there are downsides to the idea, but he just wanted board members to think about it.
“I think it’s just another tool we have for cutting the budget,” he said.
“If we can’t come up with a way to do it fairly, I don’t think we should do it,” Knebel said.
Wade Wilhour said he’s skeptical about the board’s ability to do that. “It’s too technical to do it the right way,” he said.
At the end of Thursday’s meeting, when Knebel asked whether anyone in the audience wanted to address the board, Brent Ellis voiced his opposition to Knebel’s idea.
Ellis, a sheriff candidate who was serving as the county’s chief deputy when the county board cut the salary for that position from this year’s budget.
Ellis said he believes the timing is bad. Waiting until after the primary, he said, board members could make a decision knowing who won the primary contest.
Ellis, who is running in the Republican sheriff primary with Chris Smith, Bruce Bowen and Brad Ledbetter, said some board members may favor one candidate over another, and may decide whether or not to cut the salary based on whether their favorite won.
“I’ll just say it, if it’s me (who wins), I’d probably get a pay cut,” Ellis said.
He also offered another way to cut money from the budget. “There’s 14 people there that could take a pay cut,” he said, referring to board members. “My pay was froze(n) the last four years (as chief deputy).”
Knebel said, “I take offense to that. It matters to me not who gets in there (sheriff).
“We aren’t saying the sheriff, we’re saying all newly elected officials. I think that (Ellis’ way of thinking) is absolutely wrong.”
He said that the reason the issue is being discussed now is because the county must set the salaries of county officers elected at the general election at least 180 days before the election.
Ellis said, “I’ve had conversations with you prior … and you’re going in a different direction.
“That’s why I wanted to bring it up (now), in a public forum, just to say I don’t agree with it,” he said.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board approved an intergovernmental agreement with multi-township tax assessment district No. 7.
Through that agreement, the office of Fayette County Supervisor of Assessments Cindi Lotz will perform that district’s duties until it has someone qualified to do the work.