Council gives initial OK to salary hike for prosecuting attorney; chair abstains


The County Council chair abstained last week from a vote to initially approve a raise for the county prosecuting attorney and subsequently indicated the county’s current pay freeze may continue into 2010.

A request from Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch to increase the position’s salary by 11 percent in 2011 and 6 percent in 2013 received initial council approval July 21.

The council voted 5-0 to perfect the bill, which was introduced by Fourth District Councilman Mike O’Mara, D-north county. Second District Councilman Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, was absent.

But First District Councilman and Chair Hazel Erby, D-University City, abstained.

“This is a difficult decision,” Erby said following the vote. “I feel that our prosecuting attorney position is worthy of a raise, deserves a raise, and I feel like in 2006 the raises should have been done then. However, I have a problem with it at this particular time with the county employees … not receiving a raise (this) year and possibly not receiving one next year.

“So it’s not that I don’t support this position and feel that the raise would be deserved, which I do. It’s just at this time I cannot vote in favor of this.”

In November, County Executive Charlie Dooley removed pay increases for county employees — about $3 million — from the 2009 budget, citing an expected decrease in revenues.

Employees received a 3-percent raise in 2008 and a 5-percent raise in 2007.

“We all have high hopes that this economy’s going to turn around, but under current conditions it’s hard to imagine that our revenues are going to be significantly different next year,” county spokesman Mac Scott said of 2010 budget preparations. “We’re kind of on that tightest notch of the belt, and we’re probably going to be there for a little bit.”

McCulloch has asked the council to raise the prosecuting attorney’s salary to $150,000 from $135,000 effective Jan. 1, 2011, which is the start date for that office’s next term. The position’s salary would increase again on Jan. 1, 2013 — to $160,000.

McCulloch initially was paid $65,000 when he was elected prosecuting attorney in 1991. He has received a raise at the start of each subsequent term in office. If approved, the raises would take effect after next year’s election cycle. McCulloch has run unopposed for re-election since 1998.

Historically, the county executive’s salary has exceeded that of the prosecuting attorney by about $5,000. Therefore, the council typically approves raises for those positions concurrently.

But Dooley, whose current salary is $140,000, doesn’t plan to submit a raise request for the next county executive term, his spokesman said recently. If that’s the case, the prosecuting attorney would make more money than the county’s top official beginning in 2011, providing the council approves McCulloch’s request.

At least two county-appointed officials currently net more money a year than Dooley. Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls and Director of Health Delores Gunn both are paid $148,109 a year, according to the Department of Administration.

O’Mara’s proposed pay raise legislation now also includes an amendment to the county code section on the prosecuting attorney’s retirement plan.

Under the current code, if the prosecuting attorney is eligible for benefits under a non-county operated retirement plan, for “periods of prior service,” his or her benefits under the county’s civilian and police officer retirement plan would be reduced each year by the same amount received from the non-county plan.

The bill before the council would change the code so that “participants eligible to participate in a retirement plan not operated by the county for periods of prior service as a prosecuting attorney … shall have their benefits under both the civilian employees retirement plan and the police officer retirement plan for the same periods of service reduced each year by one-third.”