Auditor’s report shows clerks’ salaries
JACKSON (AP) — Take-home pay for 56 chancery clerks in Mississippi topped $100,000 in 2009, according to an annual report from the state auditor’s office.
There are 82 chancery clerks in the state — one per county. The auditor’s report showed one clerk took home more than $200,000.
Leflore County Chancery Clerk Sam Abraham had the highest salary in 2009, at $209,797, according to the audit report.
Two of the state’s 82 circuit clerks — in Jones and Lamar counties — also had net incomes of more than $100,000. Lamar County’s Leslie Wilson reported $122,800 in net income. Jones County’s Bart Gavin reported $117,680.
A fee system allows clerks to keep what they collect after paying for operations of their offices.
A state law that took effect Oct. 1, 2004, caps the clerks’ annual pay for duties at $90,000 per year. Any fees collected above the cap were supposed to go into the counties’ general funds, but there are several exceptions that increase many clerks’ take-home pay.
Chancery clerks’ fees that are not subject to the salary cap include performing homestead services or record restoration or acting as a purchase clerk, administrator, comptroller/bookkeeper, veterans’ service officer, court-appointed custodian and ‘‘other.’’ In counties that have no county court, the chancery courts have jurisdiction over issues involving juveniles.
For circuit clerks, fees not subject to the cap are those charged for criminal records searches, assisting supervisors in implementing redistricting plans, application fees for appointments as passport agents, fees for programming and setting up voting machines and equipment for elections, interest earned on fee accounts and ‘‘other.’’
The clerks are normally the highest paid elected officials in their counties. Other county officeholders get salaries set in state law based on population and tax bases.
‘‘In these smaller counties — especially rural ones — you run into clerks that have other duties assigned to them by the board because of the overflow of work,’’ said Quitman County Chancery Clerk T.H. ‘‘Butch’’ Scipper, president of the Mississippi Chancery Clerks Association.
‘‘In a lot of counties, clerks are the inventory clerks and county administrators as well. The chancery clerk is already involved in some of those duties so (the boards) assign those tasks to them because boards know they may have skills in those areas.’’
Scipper told the Hattiesburg American that in addition to his full-time duties as clerk, he also works part time as his county’s comptroller and administrator.
Scipper earned $154,178 in 2009, according to the auditor’s report. The Quitman County Board of Supervisors pays him $9,600 a year to serve as comptroller and an additional $3,600 annually as its administrator.
Scipper earned $64,178 in extra income not subject to the mandated cap.
‘‘And I worked hard for it,’’ he said. ‘‘Small counties realize they can put the job on us and give us part-time pay for it. They couldn’t hire a full-time person to do those jobs. If we had a full-time comptroller, he’d expect to earn about $90,000 a year and all the amenities and staff to go along with that.’’
Scipper said clerks who take on the extra jobs are trying to save the county money and the hardship of having to find part-time employees who can handle the very complex jobs the clerks do.
Lynn Evans, chairwoman of the open-government advocacy group Common Cause Mississippi, said it may be time of the Legislature to take another look at clerks’ salaries ‘‘to see if there is anything that needs to be done to level the playing field.’’
‘‘People need to know if they are getting their money’s worth, or if an elected official is using his office to enrich himself beyond what is a comparable salary for his talents,’’ she said.
Sen. Terry Brown, a Republican from Columbus and chairman of the Fees and Salaries Committee, said the fee system should be reviewed but he wants to wait until the economy stabilizes.
‘‘We just didn’t tie it down far enough,’’ Brown said. ‘‘We allowed them to do other jobs and do other things for the county and we wanted them compensated for the extra work. I would like to tighten it down where we have legitimate caps where they couldn’t go over certain amounts.’’
State auditor’s office, http://www.osa.state.ms.us
Some information from: Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com