By Paul Gable
Horry County Council will decide tomorrow night whether to resolve a pay dispute between the county magistrates and the county government.
The dispute dates back to the Fiscal Year 2017 budget which began on July 1, 2016. During budget deliberations nearly three years ago, Horry County Council decided to approve a pay raise of 3% for all county employees.
Magistrates are state constitutionally mandated positions appointed by the governor upon the recommendation of the local legislative delegation. However, they are county employees paid for from the county general fund.
The county receives a portion of magistrate pay each year from the local government fund in the state budget. The local government fund is designed to help counties fund state mandated positions.
Historically, the S. C. General Assembly underfunds the local government fund, which is supposed to be funded according to a specific formula.
According to information received by Grand Strand Daily, the General Assembly mandated an approximately three percent pay raise for county magistrates in its FY 2017 budget and raised appropriations in the local government fund to pay for that raise.
According to state law, counties cannot reduce the amount they pay employees in state mandated positions when the state gives those employees a raise. By not specifically excluding the magistrates from the county raise of three percent for “all county employees,” the magistrates claim they were entitled to both the county and state raises.
However, the magistrates received only the raise mandated by the state. Despite county council budget discussions and votes, the magistrates were excluded from the county pay raise. According to several sources in county government, administrator Chris Eldridge made the final decision to exclude the magistrates from the county pay raise.
The magistrates are asking the county for a retroactive three percent raise and a lump sum check for nearly three years of missed wages.
As a matter of comparison, magistrates in the county are paid an average salary of $88,400 with health and retirement system contributions and paid holiday and leave time.
The county administrator receives a base salary of $200,000, paid holidays and leave, paid health insurance and retirement contributions and, despite a fleet of county owned cars for official employee use, a car allowance of $9,600 per year.
This is the second time in as many months that the county has had to make back payments to employees for money owed but not paid. After an apparent, unannounced change in policy, public safety employees received less holiday and leave pay than prior years.
After receiving numerous complaints from employees, the county cited a “mistake” in its calculations and paid the lost amounts.