August 15, 2015 10:38:35 PM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
The highlight of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting Friday came when Circuit Court Judge Jim Kitchens appeared before the board regarding pay for court reporters.
Kitchens spoke to the supervisors to seek support for what could be as much as an $18,000 pay raise for the circuit court's three court reporters.
The Mississippi legislature passed a resolution earlier this year allowing counties to increase the pay for court reporters in circuit courts and chancery courts up to $6,000 annually over the next three years.
Kitchens recommended that the county provide that maximum amount, but the board took no action.
Kitchens said court reporters have not received a raise in 11 years. He said the three circuit court reporters currently make an average of $45,000 per year, based on experience. The starting pay for court reporters is in the $35,000 range.
The raise is justified, according to Kitchens, because court reporters play an essential role in the judicial system, often work from home in the evening transcribing court proceedings and have four-year college degrees.
While supervisors were not hostile to Kitchen's request, they did take issue with the way court reporters are paid.
Although court reporters and court administrators are considered state employees, their salaries are paid by counties.
"One of the biggest problems I have is not with the pay raise itself, but because this is a unfunded mandate from the legislature," District 5 supervisor Leroy Brooks said. "If we pass this raise, county employees are going to find out about it from TV or the newspaper and they're going to say, 'Why can't I get a raise?' I don't blame them, either. If the legislature is going to do this, they should provide the money. You know, $18,000 is a considerable amount of money."
Board President Harry Sanders agreed.
"The way it worked is that (circuit courts) lobbied the legislature for this and the legislature took the easy way out. They approved the raises, but put the burden on the supervisors," Sanders said. "The state pays (the judges') salary. They should pay the court reporters salary, too."
Any pay raise would be divided among the four counties in the district, which includes Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay and Noxubee counties, based on a proportional formula. Lowndes County would be responsible for 37 percent of that cost. Oktibbeha County and Clay County would pay 24 percent each, while Noxubee County would be responsible for 15 percent.
Sanders said after the meeting that any pay raise would have to be agreed on by supervisors from all of the affected counties.
"I'm not sure what we will do," Sanders said. "But it's a decision will have to make pretty soon because our budget is due in September."
The county's fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
In other business
The board approved providing up to $6,300 to relocate the World War I veterans plaques to the county courthouse. The plaques, which commemorate the county soldiers who died in World War I, had been previously located at the Magnolia Bowl, which is owned by the city's school district. When the school district began demolition work on the now vacant stadium, the plaques were removed and placed in storage.
Alice Lancaster, Regent of the Bernard Romans Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, asked the board to provide the money required to install the plaques on a new granite monument that will be located at the courthouse just east of the Confederate Monument.
The board also passed a series of proposals connected with the Steel Dynamics expansion project, including the submission of a $500,000 DIP Grant application. The grant comes with a 10 percent match, but Golden Triangle Planning and Development District analyst George Crawford said the $50,000 match would come from other grant monies rather than the county's general fund.
The board also approved hiring Calvert-Spradling Engineers of West Point as the project engineer on the rail extension the county agreed to build as part of the expansion project. Calvert-Spradling was the only bidder.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]