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Judge gets pay increase; employees get zilch

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By Jay Cason

If the county budget that was presented at Tuesday night's special fiscal court meeting remains unchanged, county employees' salaries will be frozen for the fiscal year that begins July 1, although Judge-Executive Steve Cornish's pay has already this year been increased by about 6 1/2 percent.

And if he takes advantage of incentive pay offered to those who take classes designed to make judge-executives more effective in their positions, he stands to earn an additional $2,000 to $3,000.

Cornish said Tuesday morning the salary amounts listed in the proposed budget are "misleading."

"I don't want this to be an issue," Cornish said. "My salary is set in Frankfort. I won't get an increase in July. Judge-executive, the sheriff and county clerk all had a budget adjustment at the first of the year."

Cornish took office in January of 2006 with a salary of $69,670. He said his salary since this January has been $74,021.

The county clerk and sheriff each submit separate budgets and salaries for their employees are not included in the county's proposed budget.

Magistrate David Ruggles, who sits on the court's finance committee, said he's aware that some county workers have difficulty accepting that their pay won't increase while others will receive at least a cost of living increase.

He said he's not sure much can be done about the situation.

He said there isn't enough money to grant raises and does not know if county officials are required to accept cost of living increases granted by the state.

"The judge's salary is based on a formula set by the state that I believe is based on the population of the county and the number of years in office," he said.

"We voted earlier to give our employees a 4 percent raise, but we've had to rescind that."

Ruggles said the proposed budget doesn't include a pay raise for magistrates, but does include "education incentive pay" that is earned by taking classes.

"I don't mind accepting that," he said, adding that the pay is intended to cover the time he spends taking classes and learning how be a more effective magistrate.

Ruggles said unless new sources of revenue are identified, he expects the financial situation to be even worse for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Cornish said that while the county's expenses continue to increase, the amount of revenue has remained static.

"We estimate about the same revenue as last year," he said. However, he did not expect to have a significant surplus to carry over, such as the court had in past years.

"There is no fluff anywhere in this budget," Cornish agreed. "We just don't have the money for raises for employees.

"I'm not even sure that we'll be able to fill a position if someone leaves."

The Anderson County Fiscal Court meeting convened too late for coverage in this edition of The Anderson News.