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Munson says he can't nix raise

December 17, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Commissioner John C. Munson said Monday he's having second thoughts about his opposition to a $10,000 pay raise approved for the commissioners in April because of the workload that comes with the elected post.

"I should not have said that during the campaign I guess," Munson said. "There's a lot more to being a County Commissioner" than most people realize.

He said he could not reject the raise if he decided to because the increase was approved by the state legislature and signed by the governor. Munson said he spoke with a delegation member who told him the raises could not be reversed.

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"You can't reject it. You can't do it," Munson said. "The state has to do it for you, and they said it can't be done."

He said he would like to know whether another bill could be passed to reverse the pay raise, but that he has realized the commissioner position requires a lot of time for meetings and other government functions.

"I'm having second thoughts about it because there's a lot more involved ... People tell me ... I'd be fool for changing it back," Munson said.

He said, however, he hasn't decided whether to continue opposing the increase.

The commissioners had earned $20,000 a year since 1990, but the legislature agreed to increase that to $30,000, effective Dec. 3. The former board of commissioners endorsed the raise by a vote of 4-1 in September 2001, with current Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell voting against the increase.

One of Munson's campaign promises was to urge the commissioners to reject the pay raise to save money for the county.

County Attorney Richard Douglas said Monday county officials have spent hours looking for ways for the commissioners to reject the raises after they had been approved, but that several state, federal and IRS regulations got in the way.

"It really is a matter of state law," Douglas said. "It's not a local bill. It's not a local ordinance. It's actually a state law."

Douglas and Wivell said the legal tie-ups also make it difficult to transfer the raises to another department if the commissioners decide they don't want them.

Wivell said an IRS regulation requires that the money be listed as part of the commissioners' wages and that they would still have to pay taxes on the money if they choose to use it for other county matters or charity.

"It's a ... mess," Douglas said. "There's just no good way to do it."

Munson said he hasn't decided whether to give the increase to charity.

Wivell said because the raises have been approved by the state, he thinks it's a dead issue.

"I voted against it because I don't set my own salary in private industry. I'm not going to set it in public," Wivell said. "The issue's been decided upon, and it's over with."

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