Longtime treasurer complains about pay by county

Friday, October 15, 2004

Cape Girardeau County Treasurer Bill Reynolds indirectly accused the county salary commission of costing him at least $50,000 in lost wages Thursday, the day the salary commission officially approved a pay increase for the county treasurer's position.

"I feel that over the years, and this is a conservative estimate, I've been cheated out of about $50,000 in pay," Reynolds said at Thursday's meeting.

Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones took exception to Reynolds' statement about being cheated. He said Reynolds' salary was boosted quite a bit in 1996.

The commission's adjustment action Thursday came as the result of legislation sponsored by Rep. Scott Lipke of Jackson in the Missouri Legislature's last session. The law allows the county to adjust the treasurer's salary this year.

The salary commission, which consists of all county-elected officials, had been authorized to meet in only odd-numbered years under past state law to consider pay issues.

But by the time Lipke's legislation was taken up, Reynolds had already declared that he was not going to run for re-election. He was a candidate for county commissioner this year, but did not win in the August primary.

The issue of salaries began in 1996 when Cape Girardeau County was preparing to make the leap to first-class status based on its total assessed valuation figures.

At the time, the salary commission had the opportunity to adjust salaries for elected positions. By 1999, all of the new salaries went into effect. Some started before then depending on when the new election term started.

Most of the elected positions -- the presiding commissioner, auditor, assessor, collector and the recorder -- all got the same base salary at $41,800, which increased every year as the commission added 3.5 percent cost-of-living increases.

The county clerk and sheriff salaries were set slightly higher, at roughly $50,000, and the associate commissioners' salary was set at $39,800 -- exactly $2,000 less than the presiding commissioner based on statute requirements.

The treasurer's salary, which was comparable to the commissioners' salaries before the county's status was changed, went up to $37,000, easily the lowest of all the full-time, elected positions.

However, Reynolds did get an $8,600 increase, a bigger raise than most of the other office holders.

Reynolds took the salary increase he officially received in 1997 as a personal slap in the face. In 2001, he asked the salary commission to adjust the salary, but Jones, who chaired the meeting, declared Reynolds out of order.

At the time, Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said the treasurer's salary could only be considered for the next election in 2004.

Jones said the 1996 salaries were recommended by then-Auditor Weldon Macke. Before the county's status changed, the treasurer made $28,140. The clerk, assessor, collector and recorder all made roughly $44,000.

Reynolds said the word "equalize" was removed from the 1996 motion to adjust salaries when he objected to the wording. He said the word was removed just so the county didn't have to make the treasurer's salary equal to that of the other positions.

Swingle called that a "misstatement." The salary commission was bringing the salaries up to first-class standards, not "equalizing" salaries, he said.

The new treasurer's salary, based on state statutes, is $51,000. It's still not "equal" to the other positions. The legislators included wording in the statute that said the salary could not be greater than the maximum compensation laid out in statutes.The other office holders are now making $56,968 due to cost-of-living raises.

Reynolds, who has been the treasurer for 24 years, said he doesn't know why the treasurer was paid less in the first place. He suspects it's because of a perception that he has less responsibility that the other office holders.

"That's not true," Reynolds said after the meeting. "I work full time with one deputy. The rest of them have 10 or 12 deputies. I just wanted to be equal. If everybody else wanted to lower their salaries to be even with mine, that would've been OK. But they weren't going to do that."

In 2001, two county office holders, Macke and Collector Diane Diebold, said the county could manage without a treasurer, but said that couldn't happen because of statutory restrictions requiring a treasurer's office.

Actually, according to public records, Reynolds could have earned an extra $70,292 in salary over the last eight years had his salary been equal. While many of the other office holders' increased salaries didn't take effect until 1999, Reynolds's increase would've began immediately in 1997, the beginning of a new term.

Reynolds said he hasn't yet decided about pursuing the money through the courts.

"Well, you know what that would mean," Reynolds said. "Appeal, appeal, appeal. That would get expensive real quick. I don't know if I'll do anything."



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