You don’t go into county politics for the money. That was the message from County Commissioner John Alford when asked about salaries for elected officials in the county, which are among the lowest in the state.
According to data compiled by the University of North Carolina School of Government for 2011, The Scotland County Board of Commissioners was 14th from the bottom – 86 out of 100 – in total compensation at $6,276 per year.
“Commissioners in Scotland County don’t get paid anywhere near what Robeson and Hoke counties do,” Alford said.
The numbers back up that assertion, as Robeson county commissioners rank fourth among the highest paid in the state with $21,760 in total compensation. Hoke county commissioners are paid $7,060 per year with a $100 per meeting add on. Moore County’s commissioners receive $7,380 in total compensation per annum. The study did not include figures for Richmond County.
For 2011, the board of commissioners voted to receive only half of its total stipend because of budget constraints.
It has since been returned to the full $6,276.
When counting the cost to run an effective campaign, which he pegs at “about $5,000,” Alford says that entering county politics is a losing proposition financially.
“The money does not pay for my local travel, and what it costs for gas. Plus the time away from your family, or jobs, it costs to serve. If you are not willing to pay, don’t get into,” Alford said.
The pressure on commissioners to travel is significant, as many of them serve on state boards and are frequently asked to attend state-level training and informational sessions.
“Just this last week three of our commissioners went to Raleigh for an annual conference, and Commissioner Carol McCall goes to (Mount Olive) for mental health meetings,” said County Manager Kevin Patterson, who believes that the county gets good value for money from its commissioners.
“For the commissioners, we are getting a good value, and they are showing responsibility by not over inflating their budget. Their stipend does not begin to compensate them for the amount of time they put in the office,” Patterson said.
Satisfied with the current pay level, Commissioner Carol McCall said that she “does not anticipate anything occurring in the near future to that would cause us to increase it.”
“We are paid a gracious plenty for what we do,” said Commissioner John Cooley, also saying that while the pay should not be increased, it should be maintained.
“Looking at it from the perspective of others, if nothing else the compensation makes you feel that much more that you need to do what you are supposed to do and be more committed,” Cooley said.
Citing the languishing Scotland County economy, Cooley said that the pay was acceptable. “We rank at the bottom in so many other ways, I think that this pay level is appropriate.”
The county’s philosophy with regard to compensating its commissioners is a big reason for the low pay, Patterson said.
“Ultimately the goal of the pay is to offset some of the cost of doing business in the county, and performing the job. In that way it is more of a stipend than a salary.”
The value does not end there, according to Patterson.
Patterson said that county economic developer Greg Icard represents excellent return on investment.
With pay in the bottom third of those counties that reported economic developers’ salaries to the study, Icard is a hometown discount, says Patterson.
“As far as (Icard’s) salary compared with comparable directors, even though he only has four years experience, with the professional contacts he has, the amount of time and effort he puts in – the county is getting tremendous value in him when you consider what he could (make) elsewhere, if this county were not his home.”
Icard, who made $57,672 in 2011, says that calling Scotland County home is part of the reason he was willing to commit to a long-term project like the Small Business Innovation Center/business incubator, which is currently under construction.
“Often times a project like this is not started because of the time it takes to complete, but this is my home,” Icard said earlier this year.
Patterson’s salary — $96,240 a year plus about $6,000 for travel — also falls in the bottom third of the state, at 31 from the bottom in total salary.
“He is not among the top paid, nor as he had an increase in several years,” Alford said of Patterson.
Top 5 compensated county boards of commissioners for 2011:
1. Mecklenburg: $26,690 — $22,370 salary; $4,320 travel
2. Cumberland: $24,889 — $20,089 salary; $4,800 travel
3. Guilford: $22,500 — $21,000 salary; $1,500 travel
4. Robeson: $21,760 — $13,360 salary; $8,400 travel
5. Brunswick: $21,000 — salary only