Knox Co. officials get automatic pay raises, totaling tens of thousands

(WBIR) Knox County employees and local school teachers won't get pay raises this year, but 17 of the county's highest paid elected officials and administrators will.

However, they didn't ask for them, and there's not much they can do about it.

The salary increases are pretty much state mandated and automatically factored into their paychecks, starting tomorrow, the first day of the new fiscal year.

"I believe I'm paid too much as it is and I've said that before," Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett told WBIR 10News on Monday. "I'm paid an exorbitant amount of money and I realize that."

The mayor, who will get an almost $2,500 bump this year, said for decades various officials and organizations would lobby the state Legislature each year, asking for pay raises.

THE NUMBERS: Elected officials' pay raises for 2015 fiscal year (PDF)

The General Assembly in 2002 eventually enacted a number of statutes that set minimum levels of compensation for officials based on a number of factors, including population size, whether state employees received raises, and the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, which measures changes in price levels of consumer goods and services.

The statutes affect the entire state, so officeholders and executives in all 95 counties are expected to get automatic raises this year.

For Knox County that means 17 officials will receive increases between $2,480 and $4,843, or about 1.5 percent to 3.3 percent.

The total combined cost? Almost $57,200.

Those leaders include, the mayor, law director, administrator of elections, circuit court clerk, criminal court clerk, clerk and mastery of chancery and probate court, county clerk, property assessor, register of deeds, sheriff, trustee, a juvenile court judge and five general sessions court judges.

"It's a domino effect that's out of our hands," said county Finance Director Chris Caldwell.

For example, Caldwell said, the judges' 1.5 percent pay raises are tied to the CPI. But, the county charter ties the law director's salary to the judges.

That means, Bud Armstrong, the county's top attorney, gets a $2,480 bump this year.

However, Burchett then indirectly benefits, since the charter states that the county mayor must be the highest paid elected official.

Once the law director gets a raise, it puts him above Burchett.

Therefore, the mayor gets a $2,480.14 increase, which will put his annual salary at $167,687 - $1 more than the judges and law director.

The mayor's increase then affects other local leaders, since they're supposed to earn salaries based on various percentages of the mayor's annual pay. So, as his compensation increases, so, too, does theirs.

Caldwell said the Tennessee County Technical Assistance Services, or CTAS, an organization that provides technical assistance to county governments, and the state set the minimum salaries for each position.

"The state will say via CTAS: here is what the officials have to make – here's your floor (salary level)," Caldwell said. "There's not much we can do about it."


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