The Charleston County Council's first raise in more than a decade, which is up for approval Thursday, would boost the chairman's salary by 50 percent and members' pay by 44 percent.
If approved by the Council's Finance Committee, the chairman's salary would be increased from $17,347 to $26,142 and the eight council members' pay would go from $14,352 to $20,738. The raises would be effective Jan. 1.
"County Council hasn't had a raise in 15 to 20 years. It's hard to attract good candidates for $25 per meeting," said Chairman Teddie Pryor. "It's not about me. It's about the people that come behind me."
Other elected officials up for raises are: County Coroner, 15 percent to $101,405; Register Mesne Conveyance, 20 percent to $115,986; and the Clerk of Court, 13 percent to $119,710.
The proposed salary changes are the result of a four-year study authorized by County Council.
"A thorough review has been conducted and some equity adjustments are proposed to address historical and current pay issues," county Human Resources Director Fagan Stackhouse said in a memo to Council.
The pay hikes would make Charleston County Council members the second highest paid in the state in areas with a population of 200,000 or more. Currently, the county ranks No. 6, according to the South Carolina Association of Counties.
Greenville County has the highest-paid council members in the state at $25,479. The council chairman there makes $30,575. At the bottom of the list, Saluda County pays its council members $6,000 annually, and the chairman receives $8,000 per year, according to the SCAC.
Charleston County, the third most populous county in the state at 365,162, has the largest payroll at $107.9 million and the biggest full-time staff at 2,374 employees, the association reports.
The pay review process began in 2010 when Charleston County Council directed that the Committee for Auditing Performance and Evaluation Standards be formed. It was comprised of Council representatives, other elected county officials and the county administrator. CAPES selected a human resources and compensation consultant, Evergreen Solutions, Inc., to assess current job duties and responsibilities and conduct a comprehensive analysis of the county's pay structure and system. Seven counties in the Carolinas similar to Charleston County were surveyed. The county paid Evergreen $54,298.
Along with the pay raises, Council is also considering a new employee merit pay program that would begin in the seventh year of county service. Raises would be 1 to 2 percent, depending on available funding. The merit program would largely replace the cost-of-living adjustment.
The county's pay philosophy is that elected officials and staff should receive the market average, Stackhouse said.
The revised pay plan for employees would go into effect on Oct. 3,
Pryor and several council members said the raises are necessary because of how time consuming the job has become as the area has grown, the extensive travel that is required for which officials are not reimbursed and the need to attract qualified candidates.
Because the pay is so low, most council members either have full-time jobs or are retired.
"Nobody is going to get rich off it," Pryor, a project manager for the City of North Charleston, said of serving on the Council.
Councilman Dickie Schweers, of McClellanville, said he is essentially on call around the clock and puts 10,000 miles a year on his truck for council business.
"It's not something you do for the money. It's very demanding. It's a 24/7 type job," said Schweers, a Santee Cooper superintendent of operations.
As a retired judge barred from being paid for serving in an elected position, Councilman Vic Rawl receives no county salary.
"I enjoy being a public servant. I enjoy being involved in the decision-making process for the public good," he said.
Salary matters when it comes to enticing others to participate on Council, he said.
"I've got to look at it very carefully," he said of the proposed pay hike.
In addition to pay, Council members are eligible for medical insurance and retirement benefits, he noted.
In urban areas such as Charleston, being a County Council member is more time-consuming and demanding, said John Crangle, director of Common Cause of South Carolina, an advocacy group that monitors ethics and government waste.
"I think they have a lot more on their plate," he said. "I think you have to look at how much time and effort they put into it.
"Those numbers don't strike me as excessive," he said of the proposed salaries.
According to Pryor, elected officials can only raise their pay in an election year. Council members Herb Sass, Dickie Schweers, Teddie Pryor, Anna Johnson and Joe Qualey are running for re-election in November, although only Johnson has an opponent.