Pay for elected officials varies widely in county

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    Municipal jobs, either on the city or county level, are typically seen by the public as good jobs – a perception that is borne out by the fact that the average salary for most municipalities in this area is slightly above the $22,170 that is the average income for the state of Arkansas as reported by the US Census Bureau. Those jobs also tend to include well thought-of benefits and retirement packages.
    Alternately, work in the public sector is often noted to pay much less to mid- and upper level managers, with mid-managers in Fortune 500 companies averaging pay rates more than six times what top-level municipal managers and elected officials in this area average, according to figures put out by Fortune 500 Magazine.
    All of that must also be balanced against the possibility of misuse of funds, such as famously occurred in the city of Bell, California a few years ago, where the city council was discovered to have been paying themselves more than four times the average income for their city, and the mayor was receiving a whopping $442,000 – nearly 18 times the city’s average income.
    Salary information was gathered for elected officials and department heads for Howard County and the four incorporated municipalities inside it. Information about average salaries for those positions across the state was provided by the Arkansas Municipal League and the Counties. No information on average pay was available for towns smaller than 250 in population.
    The highest official for each body is either the mayor or the county judge, and a very wide range of salaries emerged there: Mayor of Nashville Billy Ray Jones drew the highest pay, at $52,601.64, with Howard County Judge Kevin Smith drawing a salary of $46,964. The mayor of Dierks, Terry Mounts, who also serves as the city’s public works director, is paid $9,750 annually, while the city of Mineral Springs pays Mayor Bobby Tullis $9,600. The mayor of Tollette, Charles Miller, draws $100 per month, or $1,200 annually. Jones’s salary is above the average of $41,259 for cities in Arkansas employing a full-time mayor, while Mounts and Tullis are both below the $11,359 averaged by part-time mayors. Smith’s pay is just above the $43,047 average for counties about the same population range.
    The bodies that largely set salaries for municipal bodies, the quorum court and city councils vary just as widely in the compensation they receive. Justices of the Peace, members of the quorum court, each receive $2,482.59 per year. City council members are paid $2,093.16 in Nashville, $1,200 in Mineral Springs, $900 in Dierks and $240 in Tollette each year. Average for quorum court members in comprable counties is $1,716, while aldermen in cities the same general size as Nashville average $3,181 and council members in cities of the second class average $2,117 per year.
    City recorder/treasurers are the only other elected officials in most local municipalities. In Nashville, that job is split, with City Clerk Mary Woodruff being paid $24,999.78 per year, well below the $39,516 average, and Financial Director (a hired rather than elected position) Jimmy Dale receiving $48,636 – a bit above the $45,576 average salary. In Dierks, the city recorder/treasurer Sherrie Edge receives $9,000 each year, while Mineral Springs recorder/treasurer April Nail is paid $12,240 and Tollette recorder/treasurer Dorothy Walker, who also serves as the town’s water department clerk, receives a combined pay of $15,470. Average for a part-time recorder/treasurer in the state is reported as $7,423.
    On the county level, an array of officials fill that middle level directly under the county judge and over hired employees. The county sheriff, Bryan McJunkins, who also serves as county collector, receives a salary of $46,963.80 – just under the pay of the county judge, and just over the average of $42,096 for sheriffs in similar sized counties. The county clerk, Brenda Washburn, circuit clerk, Angie Lewis, and treasurer, Sherri Mixon, all received $38,561.18 per year, while county assessor Deb Teague is paid $41,928.33. Average pay for all those positions in similarly sized counties is $36,351. The county coroner, John Gray, receives $3,993.54 in pay each year, below the $4,669 average.
    Though state law provides for city attorneys to be elected, no municipality in the county elects their attorney – instead hiring attorneys to fill that role. The role of Nashville city attorney is split between prosecuting attorney Bryan Chesshir and deputy prosecutor Aaron Brasel, each receiving $11,000 for that work. This works out to above the $16,290 averaged for cities of similar size across the state. Brasel, in his role as deputy prosecuting attorney, also acts as county attorney and does not receive additional pay for that role. Dierks city attorney Erin Hunter receives $7,200 per year, while Mineral Springs city attorney LeAnne Daniel is paid $3,978 annually – both below the $7,802 average paid for city attorneys by cities of the second class across Arkansas.
    Hired employees make up the bulk of salaries paid in the majority of local municipalities, with department heads sometimes taking in pay nearly equal to their elected overseers. Under the county judge, road foreman Eric Wakefield is paid $34,991.17, field supervisor Michael Reed gets 28,135.07 and shop foreman Jeremy Hill receives $28,408.22. Average for road foremen in similar counties across the state is $30,134, and average for head shop mechanic, the closest analogue that could be found for a shop foreman, is $28,836. No job similar to field supervisor was included in the ACC pay averages.
    Compared to that, Nashville’s public works director, Larry Dunaway, receives $47,707.92 – below the $51,026 averaged for that job in similar sized cities. Jonathan Holden, city water and streets manager in Mineral Springs is paid $28,891, and Andoval Williams, Tollette’s water and streets manager, receives $23,920. As noted above, Mayor Terry Mounts fills the role of public works director for Dierks, and did not report any additional pay for that role. Average for a public works director for smaller cities is $41,914.
    For law enforcement, in addition to the sheriff, the county’s jail administrator is paid $31,669, just below the $32,323 average. Nashville’s police chief, Dale Pierce, is salaried at $48,235.20 per year (just below the $49,053 average across the state), while the chief in Dierks, Brian White, receives $36,545.60 per year and Mineral Springs chief Jeff Witherspoon is paid $34,839. They are, in both instances, below the $38,830 average for cities of the second class. Tollette has no law enforcement.
    Nashville and Mineral Springs are the only cities that pay their fire chiefs. Nashville Fire Chief Jerry Harwell, who also works as the city’s code enforcement officer, receives $42,619.20, below the $53,305 average. Mineral Springs Fire Chief Chris Hostettler is compensated $4,800 for his work – right at the $4,767 average for a part-time fire chief in smaller cities.
    There are a few positions with various municipal bodies that have no analogue in the others. The veteran’s affairs officer for the county, Milton Puryear, receives $8,270.20 in pay each year, which is not included in the statewide averages. Nashville’s park administrator is paid $35,006.40 a year, a position that is filled on an interim provision by Wendy Harris. The salary average for that position would be $43,075.
    In the end analysis, payscales for public officials are within a few percent of state averages in most cases, but are still far below comparable private sector pay.

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