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Archive for Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Salary sense

The differences in salaries paid to elected city and county commissioners and school board members may be justifiable, but are they sensible?

December 19, 2006

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Salaries for elected officials in Lawrence and Douglas County seem out of whack. Douglas County commissioners' decision Monday to raise their salaries by $11,000 apiece next year drew attention to the wide disparity between salaries paid to county commissioners, city commissioners and school board members.

While county commissioners will receive about $32,500 for their service next year, Lawrence city commissioners will receive $9,000, with an additional $1,000 for the mayor. And how about Lawrence school board members? Well, they are prohibited by state statute from being paid anything for their service.

By any standard measure, it's hard to justify the wide differences in the salaries for these public officials. County commissioners have two public meetings each week, but it's likely they don't spend more time in two meetings than city commissioners usually do in one, not to mention the city's many study sessions. The responsibilities of the two commissioners are similar; both city and county commissions set policies that are carried out by professional administrators and a full professional staff.

School board members apparently have been officially undervalued by state lawmakers, but from a practical standpoint, they likely spend as many hours in study and meetings as either city or county commissioners. Is the work they do so much less significant that they deserve no compensation for the time and expertise they devote to their jobs?

County commissioners said the raises they approved for themselves and elected county department heads were based on a survey of pay received by officials in other counties. There are, of course, many differences in the roles commissioners serve in different counties, based on how much administrative staff they employ. Perhaps the new salaries approved in Douglas County are not out of line when compared with the pay other county commissioners across the state receive, but when those salaries are compared with Lawrence city commissioners and school board members, something just doesn't seem right.

There are no special qualifications for members on any of the three governing bodies, so it's not a matter of expertise. The budget handled by the county is well below the budgets overseen by either the city commission or school board.

It makes one wonder what drives these salaries. Tradition? Politics? Whatever the justification, from a practical standpoint, the disparity in salaries these officials receive just doesn't add up.

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