Committee nixes Island sheriff pay raises, favors consolidation
A legislative committee on Monday rebuffed Gov. Deval Patrick's effort to raise the pay of two county sheriffs and began a process that the committee co-chairmen say could lead to the elimination of two sheriffs' offices.
The governor's bill, intended to facilitate budget savings by folding seven county sheriffs - and their thousands of employees - into the state, stoked public ire with a provision that would have raised to $123,000 from $97,000 the salaries of the sheriffs in sparsely populated Dukes and Nantucket Counties. That raise would bring the two sheriffs in line with other county sheriffs across the state, despite a miniscule house of correction in Dukes County and none at all on Nantucket.
In a letter accompanying his bill, Gov. Deval Patrick said his proposal would provide "more stable and predictable budgeting" for the sheriffs' offices. The letter made no mention of the proposed pay raises. Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan defended the raises when the bill received a hearing last month, calling them a "small issue" compared to the $6 million to $9 million that she estimated would be saved under the bill.
The bill, scheduled to go into effect on July 1, would bring sheriffs and employees from the two islands and Barnstable, Bristol, Suffolk, Norfolk and Plymouth counties onto state benefit and payroll systems and end the practice of supporting sheriffs through real estate deeds revenues, which have slumped along with the real estate market. Local officials, such as the Dukes County commissioners, have expressed concern that the bill leaves municipalities within the counties with unfunded retiree healthcare and pension liabilities.
The state's 14 sheriffs are elected by residents in each county. Sheriffs oversee each county's house of corrections - except for Nantucket, which has none - the treatment and transportation of prisoners, reentry programs for ex-prisoners, correction officer training and programs for inmates. Inmate programs include drug rehabilitation, anger management, and parenting skills.
In their bill, committee members largely agreed with the governor's proposal. However, the bill approved by the State Administration Committee maintains the Dukes County sheriff's salary at $97,000, equal to 75 percent of the pay of an associate justice of the Superior Court, and lowers to $71,000 the salary of the Nantucket County sheriff, about 55 percent of the salary of a Superior Court associate justice.
"That is a very fair salary for an official that does not have any house of corrections and has responsibility that does not seem to match that of the other counties," said Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton), the co-chairman of the committee, said of the proposed Nantucket sheriff's salary.
The committee's bill also seeks constitutional means to eliminate or consolidate sheriff's offices, which both committee chairmen said could spell the end for the two island offices.
An eight-member commission established by the bill would study general consolidation and cost saving efforts and report by the end of the year. Committee co-chairs Rep. Steven Walsh (D-Lynn) and Joyce said constitutional questions prevented them from including consolidation provisions in the bill.