Elected officials paid by formula
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Back in 1988, when Raymond McIntyre was elected Highlands County's property tax appraiser, his salary was $54,195.
Published: September 20, 2012
Published: September 20, 2012
Twenty-four years later, McIntyre is Highlands County's senior elected official, and he earns $112,435. Why the dramatic difference?
In 1973, the Florida Legislature authorized a salary formula for county commissioners, school board members, the school superintendent and the five constitutional officers. With a few charter county exceptions like Dade, state law determines to the penny how much every sheriff, clerk of court, tax collector and supervisor of elections is paid.
"I was elected in 1988, when I was 29 years young," said McIntyre, elected as only the third Republican constitutional officer in Highlands' history. "However, Judge David Langford has been in office longer. He was county judge starting in 1987, and was elected to the circuit judgeship in 1988."
The formula is heavily weighted by population. Polk County has 604,792 residents, according to the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research estimates; Highlands has 98,712, Okeechobee 39,870, DeSoto 34,708, Hardee 27,653. At 12,812, Glades is the fourth least-populated county in Florida.
Polk County's clerk of courts, property appraiser, tax collector and school superintendent earn $140,806. Highlands County's corresponding officers earn $112,435; Okeechobee County $99,832; DeSoto $98,168, Hardee $95,894, and Glades $91,110. And Liberty, $89,678.
Is it fair that Polk County has six times more people but its constitutional officers make only $28,000 more? Or that Highlands Supervisor of Elections Joe Campbell earns $26,271 less than Sheriff Susan Benton, or $17,675 less than the other three constitutional officers?
"It's a fair process," said Eric Zwayer, who was elected the tax collector two years ago. "Whether the amounts are correct would be debatable."
Both Zwayer and McIntyre think the state should occasionally hire management consultants to compare the offices of constitutional officers with the private sector.
"We are the CEOs of our companies," Zwayer said. He and his staff of 36 process almost $90 million in tax payments annually, and in 2013, tax collectors will begin issuing driver's licenses. That's another $25 million.
Factor in, said Zwayer, that tax collectors must be accountable, among others, the Florida Legislature, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife and thousands of citizens.
There is no accounting for seniority in the formula. Zwayer has been in office two years, McIntyre for 24, but they both earn $112,435.
"There are two ways to look at that," Zwayer said. "I do value experience, but I look at performance. At the end of the day, what do you bring to your job?"
Perhaps seniority aids security. McIntyre didn't draw an opponent in the 2012 elections, nor did Zwayer or Clerk of Courts Bob Germaine.
Bill Youngman, a constant observer and commenter at Highlands County commission meetings, thinks $112,435 is too much.
"That's an awful lot of money, ain't it?" he asked. "In a county that has an average income of, what, $32,000?"
The annual median income from 2006-2010, according the U.S. Census, was $34,946.
"We haven't been able to give the workers of Highlands County a raise in three years," Youngman said. "And how much do the commissioners make?"
In fiscal year 2009-10, the answer was $49,156; in the past three years, county commissioners have lost a few hundred dollars per year as 2,000 people have moved away from Highlands County, so now they make $48,802.
Is that too much?
"No. Not if they do the job of a full-time county commissioner. Some of them don't read their (meeting materials), and they only do what staff says. That's much for them."
School board members did earn $30,706, but now they make $30,611 for those respective years.