Itawamba officials allow raises

FULTON – Two Itawamba County department heads appeared before a Board of Supervisors meeting last week, frustrated with a recent decision to halt paychecks due to unauthorized raises.
County Tax Assessor Johnny Riley was one department head who gave an employee a raise, despite the supervisors’ decision to not give out raises this year.
“If I could have been called up here, I could have explained exactly what was going on,” Riley said. “I have the authority to give my employee a raise. I am not a department head; I am an elected official and I set my employees’ salaries.”
In mid-October, supervisors claimed the pay increases issued by Riley and Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson contradicted their decision and would hurt the morale of all other county employees. So, the board directed the payroll clerk to deny distribution of the increased paychecks.
Board attorney Bo Russell said Riley and Dickinson had the legal right to increase their employees’ salaries, though in the end, the board still controls the purse strings.
Riley, however, asserted that as long as his department stays within its allotted budget, it’s not the board’s job to micromanage how he spends it.
“The county board of supervisors said not to give any raises, but I didn’t look at that,” Riley said, adding that the employee who received the pay increase has recently taken on an increased workload. “I looked at the underlying point: I’ve got enough money in my budget, I’ve got an employee who has gone above and beyond the call of duty and I think she deserves the raise that I’ve given her. And, I have that right to do that.”
Dickinson said the two employees who received pay increases also have recently become certified correction officers. He added that a recently acquired $10,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety specifically for salary supplementation is covering the cost.
Russell reminded supervisors that although the other elected officials may control how their departments’ budgets are spent, it’s the board that sets those budgets in the first place.
“You set the budget at the end of the year,” Russell said. “As long as he stays within that budget, he has the right to do with it what he wants to; but you still control the purse strings.”

Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times