CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A bill that would let counties grant pay raises to elected officials could be introduced in the state Senate this week.
State Senate Majority Whip William Laird, D-Fayette, has been asked to co-sponsor the bill that would allow counties to grant raises to elected officials other than magistrates and circuit court judges, who are employees of the state court system.
Laird, a former Fayette County sheriff and magistrate, said he supports the proposed raises.
"It's been seven years since they've (county elected officials) had a raise," he said.
The bill is still being drafted and additional sponsors could be added to the measure, he said.
Laird spoke about the bill during the annual West Virginia Association of Counties meeting held at Embassy Suites on Monday.
Jackson County Clerk Jeff Waybright also spoke at the event and expressed support for the bill.
Waybright contended that elected officials work long hours and are in dire need of a pay raise to keep up with the rising cost of living.
"We need to go before our officials and ask for a meaningful pay raise," he said to a crowd of county employees at the morning meeting.
His announcement was met with a round of applause.
Laird believes the measure, if passed, will help counties recruit and keep talented public officials, he said.
Laird would not say if he thought the bill would meet approval in both the House of Delegates and state Senate this session.
"I believe this will be addressed," he said when asked if the bill had any chance of passing.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, thinks it will be a hard sell to state leaders, as well as constituents.
"I support it conceptually," he said. "But we'll see if it's something that can be done realistically this year."
Kessler added that the governor has asked for 7.5 percent budget cuts from most state entities, including higher education, and that would make it difficult for legislators to support pay increases for county officials.
The state auditor would have to review each individual county's finances before the elected officials could accept the raise, said Patti Hamilton, executive director for the West Virginia Association of Counties.
Each elected official then would be asked if they wished to accept the pay raise, Hamilton said. The process would be similar to one enacted seven years ago during the last raise cycle, she said.
If passed, county commissioners and assessors would receive $10,000 annual raises, Hamilton said. Prosecuting attorneys would receive $12,000; sheriffs, $13,000; and circuit and county clerks, $15,000.
"This is what we'll present to the Legislature knowing that it is subject to compromise," she said.