State statute allows Warren County Sheriff to keep current salary

Published 12:13 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2022

It appears Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace will be keeping his current salary, despite initial concerns that he had been overpaid in error after census records showed the county’s population had decreased.

At Monday’s Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting, the Sheriff brought to the attention of the board his concerns that he was being paid in a higher salary tier than he should have been according to state law.

“I just have one item, basically a bookkeeping issue, that I just wanted to bring to the attention of the board and spread on the minutes,” Pace said.

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County sheriffs in Mississippi are paid according to a tiered pay scale which is defined by state legislation. The tiers are based on U.S. Census data and can change when counties grow or shrink in size.

The law states that the salary for a sheriff in a county with a population of more than 45,000 and not more than 100,000 would receive a salary of $90,000 a year.

Pace said he first became concerned when he heard media reports that the population of Warren County was smaller in 2020 than in 2010 according to the U.S. Census. So, he began researching.

“The population of Warren County, at 44,722, falls 278 people below the 45,000 threshold for the sheriff to be paid in tier two,” Pace said at the board meeting. “So based on that, I issued a letter to the President of the Board and to payroll to immediately reduce my pay from tier two to tier three, which was reflected in this most recent paycheck.”

He added that it was his wish to pay back the difference in what he believed was overpaid in error. The difference in pay would have taken effect sometime in the second half of 2021.

Pace said he spoke to multiple state and local officials but was unable to get a definitive answer as to whether his pay should be decreased.

The day after Pace addressed the board, Blake Teller, attorney for the Warren County Board of Supervisors, reached out to the Vicksburg Post.

“We have found a statute that appears to eliminate the problem,” Teller said.

Teller stated that District 1 Supervisor Ed Herring had located a law passed in 1998 that would allow Pace to keep his original pay and not have to pay the difference in what Pace had originally assumed to be payment issued in error.

The law states, “No county elected official’s annual salary established under this chapter shall be reduced during his term of office as a result of a reduction in total assessed valuation or a change in population.”

The law is located in a subsection of the Mississippi Code which addresses the salaries of elected public officials. The initial concern was raised because of the language in the subsection regarding the salaries of sheriffs.

Teller was able to confirm with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office that the law will apply, meaning Pace will keep his current salary and was not overpaid in error.

Pace said that according to his research, some of the other sheriffs in the six counties that saw population decreases would have been more adversely affected than he was. Without the new law passed in 1998, some of those sheriffs’ salaries would have been dropped from tier three to tier four, meaning a larger percentage of their salary would be reduced.

The sheriff said he initially brought the issue to the board’s attention because he simply wanted to make sure he was complying with the law.

“I just want to do the right thing,” he said. “If I wasn’t supposed to be paid in that tier, then I don’t want to be in that tier. That’s all it was.”