County objects to court raises

Published 11:05 am Thursday, September 24, 2015

A new recommendation by the state governing the first pay increase given to court reporters in more than a decade is causing headaches for the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

When the board passed its $15.8 budget for fiscal 2016, tucked away in line items were raises for each of the state’s court report whose office is in the Warren County courthouse.

“We came to a result of giving the six court reporters — two in chancery and four in circuit — a $2,000 pay raise each,” County Administrator John Smith said. “What has occurred are complications.”

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And boy is it more complicated than the machine court reporters use to turn a never-ending flow of testimony, motions and other judicial speak into a neatly worked transcript.

A bill that became law July 1 said that after Oct. 1, sets the salaries of court reporters with more than five years of experience at a maximum of $43,500 and those with more than 10 years of experience at a max of $52,000. There’s no language in the bill that the salaries must be set at that level, but the push is strong. Smith said he received court orders from the county’s two circuit judges and its chancellor calling for the raises.

So who foots the bill for this pay increase? County taxpayers.

“It emphatically says that court reporters are employees of the State of Mississippi and no general fund money of the state will be used to pay them,” Smith said.

The problem occurred when supervisors thought they were giving an across the board $2,000 for their contributions to each court reporter. However, the system is not that simple. The court reporters are paid by the state’s Administrative Office of Courts, who in turn bills the county each quarter.

“The state has waited and waited and doesn’t want to give them raises,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said. “All of the sudden they’ve realized they let the thing go and they want to dump it on us in one fell swoop.”

To further complicate things, court reporters work in multiple counties. Circuit Court’s jurisdiction is Warren, Sharkey and Issaquena Counties. Because the vast majority of hearings are in Vicksburg, Warren County pays 74.2 percent of the salaries.

The chancery district is divided among six-counties with Warren and Washington counties each pay a third and the other four counties splitting the remaining third.

For the full pay increase, “our share of the court reporters would be $30,000 a year,” Smith said.

“When we have to give money that we don’t have, we’re doing the taxpayers a disservice. We’re the keepers, but they’re telling us how to spend it,” District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon said.

Supervisors balked at spending that much, especially since the county budget was already passed.

“The justice system is going through the roof just like education is,” Board president Bill Lauderdale said.

Lauderdale and other supervisors also objected to the county being forced to pay salaries for state employees and decried previous lobbying efforts.

“Judges shouldn’t be lobbying. They’re using their position everyone’s scared of to get what they want,” he said.

Supervisors also did not take into account that the chancery district has two court reporters based in Greenville, meaning the contribution of $4,000 would actually be split four ways.

The board said they would examine the options and talk with Administration of Courts officials to see what could be done if they were not willing to fund the full raise.

Regardless of the solution they come up with, the board has until Oct. 1 to find an answer.