Dukes County's sheriff is in line for $39,000 pay raise
The state Senate last week approved a $240 million supplemental budget bill laden with money for special projects and raises for state officials, including a measure that would equalize the salaries of all of the state's 14 elected county sheriffs by raising their pay to $123,209.
If the measure survives the budget process Dukes County Sheriff Mike McCormack would see his annual pay, now $84,583, jump by $38,626, or 46 percent.
The measure was inserted into the spending package by Senator Therese Murray (D), chairman of the senate Ways and means committee at the request of the state's sheriff's lobbying group which thinks that all of the state's sheriffs should be paid the same amount.
Under the current system, a sheriff's pay is tied to the size of the resident and inmate population and the salary of trial court judges.
Andrea Cabral, Suffolk County Sheriff, is responsible for an average inmate population of 2,390 and now earns $107,138, according to a report in the Boston Globe. Under the new law, she and Richard Bretschneider, Nantucket County Sheriff, who has no jail and earns $84,583 would each make the same amount.
Flush with taxpayer dollars, state lawmakers have used the supplemental budget process to fund a variety of small and large projects, often with little scrutiny and no debate. The bill passed by the Senate last week first traveled through the House where state representatives larded it down with their own spending amendments.
The House version of the budget bill, at a cost of $317.2 million, and the Senate version, at a cost of $240.7 million, must now be reconciled in a joint House-Senate conference committee before the bill goes for approval to Republican Governor Mitt Romney, who has been critical of state lawmakers for what he describes as excessive spending, but lacks the votes to sustain a veto in a legislature with an overwhelming Democratic majority.
The sheriffs' pay hike, which was not included in the House version, came as a surprise to Representative Eric Turkington of Falmouth, who represents the Cape and Islands. In a telephone call Friday, Representative Turkington said that since the measure was not in the House version he did not know a great deal about it, but he said, "It would be a tough argument to say that all sheriffs have the same work load and therefore deserve the same pay."
In a telephone conversation Monday Senator Robert O'Leary of Barnstable, who represents the Cape and Islands, was direct in his assessment of the pay hike.
"I think it is excessive," said Senator O'Leary, "and in particular I think the Nantucket situation was particularly egregious."
Senator O'Leary said he has spoken about the pay hike to the Senate leadership. "And I can't really go any further than that," he said.
The pay hike has the support of Michael McCormack, who has been among the sheriffs lobbying for pay parity.
"It is the feeling of the Commonwealth's sheriffs that if we do equal jobs we should get equal pay," he said. "And equal does not mean that you have to have the same size facility. What it does mean is that your duties and responsibilities under the general laws are the same."