Number of Higher-Paid County Employees Rising

January 21, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveAs Richland and Lexington counties have grown, so have the number of higher-paid county employees.The two counties collectively have more than 480 employees who earn at least $50,000, according to a Midlands salary database and county records. Their average salary is nearly $30,000 above the per-capita income of most other South Carolinians.Richland County, the second largest county in the state, has 279 employees in the $50,000-plus range, while Lexington County, the state’s sixth largest, lists 206. Because the salary database lists only the top 250 salaries, The Nerve requested additional information from Richland County.

Together, the two counties’ payrolls totaled more than $31 million. The average pay for Richland County’s top employees is $67,274 compared to $63,383 in Lexington County.

The highest-paid employee in both places is the county administrator. Richland County Administrator Milton Pope’s salary is $157,500; his Lexington County counterpart, Katherine Hubbard, earns $142,500 annually.

As a group, general administration employees in each county are paid more than staff in the sheriff’s departments, jails, prosecution and emergency services divisions.

In Richland County, for example, there are 124 employees in general administration earning more than $50,000, compared to the next-largest category, the sheriff’s department, which had 62 in that category as of September.

The average salary for a Richland County general administration worker in the database is $69,548, nearly $9,000 higher than the average for Sheriff’s Department staff, The Nerve’s analysis found.

But the wage gap between the No. 1 and No 2.earners is much bigger in the Sheriff’s Department, where Sheriff Leon Lott’s salary of $142,367 is $62,000 more than his second-in-command.

In Lexington County, 85 general administration employees earn an average of $65,023, compared to the sheriff’s department, which has 41 employees earning an average of $61,640. Unlike Lott, Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, whose $110,612 salary is the sixth highest in the county, is responsible for running the jail.

Although they don’t make up the biggest group earning at least $50,000, judges, prosecutors and other court staff in Lexington County have the highest average salary ($69,205). In Richland County, that group came in a close second to general administration workers, with an average salary of $68,511.

Richland County Master-in-Equity Judge Joseph Strickland and his Lexington County counterpart, James Spence, are the top earners in that group, making $117,281 and $110,765, respectively.

But public attorneys don’t necessarily make more money than non-lawyer court staff. In Richland County, for example, nine non-lawyer magistrates earn $78,1876, higher than the salaries of 10 prosecutors, several of whom are veteran attorneys.

In Lexington County, six non-lawyer magistrates make $71,671, out-earning seven prosecutors and two public defenders.

South Carolina doesn’t require magistrates to be lawyers, though newly appointed ones must have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Reach Brundrett at 803-779-5022, ext. 106, or rick@scpolicycouncil.com.