Whoever wins the race for St. Louis County prosecuting attorney in the November 2010 election will ring in 2011 with a fresh term — and possibly a fatter paycheck.
The County Council was scheduled to vote Tuesday evening, after press time, on initial approval of a bill that would increase the prosecuting attorney’s salary by 11 percent effective Jan. 1, 2011 — the start of the next term for that office.
Incumbent Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch requested the position’s salary be increased to $150,000 from $135,000.
Introduced by Fourth District Councilman Mike O’Mara, D-north county, the legislation also would increase the prosecuting attorney’s salary by another 6 percent — to $160,000 — on Jan. 1, 2013.
In the past, the County Council also has approved pay increases for the county executive alongside those proposed for the prosecuting attorney.
County Executive Charlie Dooley’s current salary of $140,000 is more than McCulloch’s.
However, county spokesman Mac Scott said Dooley won’t request a raise for the next county executive term, which also begins on Jan. 1, 2011. If that’s the case, the prosecuting attorney would make more money than the county’s top official beginning in 2011, providing the County Council approves McCulloch’s request.
The county executive and prosecuting attorney are the only countywide elected officials.
Approved pay raises for a county-elected officer can’t legally take effect until the start of the next term — after the election cycle.
Therefore, whoever holds the office on Jan. 1 reaps the approved salary increases for that term, even if voters the previous November boot out the incumbent who first requested them.
McCulloch, a Democrat who became prosecuting attorney in 1991, has run unopposed for re-election since 1998. He beat Republican Tom Mehan to win the office in the 1990 and captured 65 percent of the vote in 1994 to win re-election over Republican challenger Ray Gruender.
McCulloch’s salary was $65,000 during his first term. It was increased to $79,500 on Jan. 1, 1995. He requested a nearly $20,000 raise in 1997, but the County Council reduced the increase to $10,000 before giving its approval.
His salary went up to $89,000 at the start of his third term on Jan. 1, 1999.
In 2000, McCulloch successfully requested a salary increase of nearly 35 percent, from $89,000 to $120,000, which took effect New Year’s Day 2003. He reached his current salary of $135,000 after requesting a 12.5-percent raise in 2005.
McCulloch began earning that salary on Jan. 1, 2007, the start of his fifth term.
McCulloch said he used the percent increase in county employee salaries from the past two years, along with estimated future percent increases, to determine the two requested raises for the prosecuting attorney.
County employees received a 5-percent pay increase in 2007, followed by a 3-percent raise last year.
Then, citing a “difficult time for everybody,” Dooley in November eliminated employee pay increases from the 2009 budget.
Although McCulloch conceded he had “no way of knowing” if the pay freeze would lift in 2010, he estimated a 2-percent pay raise for employees next year and a 3-percent increase the following two years.
McCulloch also said he compared his salary with those of prosecuting attorneys of similar counties around the country.
He specifically cited Baltimore County, Maryland, where he said his counterpart’s current salary is $204,000.
St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce’s salary is $145,194. The state’s attorney — Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster — nets $116,437 a year.
Sixth District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-south county, told the Call he would vote in favor of McCulloch’s request. He said the office is currently “underpaid” when compared to other prosecuting attorneys’ salaries.
“We want to keep and attract quality prosecutors for that top job, and we have to be competitive,” Stenger said. “I think it’s a good idea.
“And it’s certainly not a raise that’s exorbitant. It seems to me to be a very reasonable request … I think the job that he does, when you consider safety in our community, and really the excellent job he does do, I think that the raise is appropriate and I think that it’s reasonable.”