JEFFERSON-Ashe County’s new top law man Terry Buchanan’s paycheck got a little sweeter this week thanks to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners.
Commissioners voted unanimously on Monday to boost Buchanan’s pay by nearly $5,000 annually to $69,135 per year. That’s an increase from $64,245, which Buchanan was authorized to receive by commissioners when the board appointed him to the role of sheriff in January.
The move was an attempt to bring Buchanan’s compensation in line with state statutes. NCGS 153A-92 bars commissioners from reducing, “the salary, allowances or other compensation paid to an officer elected by the people for the duties of his elective office if the reduction is to take effect during the term of office for which an incumbent officer has been elected.”
The law could apply to Buchanan, who was appointed to the office of sheriff by a 3-2 vote by commissioners following the departure of former Ashe County Sheriff James Williams at the end of 2016. Williams was last elected to a four year term in 2014, and was paid nearly $83,000 a year.
Buchanan told commissioners last month that Williams had alerted him to both the state statute and the belief that the board of commissioners was “cheating” Buchanan out of roughly $20,000 a year in salary.
Buchanan also requested an increase in pay for his new Chief Deputy Richard Clayton on Feb. 20, which commissioners agreed to by bumping Clayton’s pay to $59,670 per year from $54,114 annually.
Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick said this week that commissioners researched the state statute, consulted the county personnel policy and spoke with the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association before deciding on a compromise to increase Buchanan’s pay.
Yearick said county employee compensation is based on both pay grade and longevity. Williams, for instance, was assigned a pay grade of 80 with a longevity score, or step rating, of 7 based on his years of service as sheriff.
But Yearick said a sheriff, based on the county’s current personnel policy, should be assigned a pay grade of 78. Each employee must also begin at Step 1 unless commissioners approve otherwise based on factors like experience outside of employment with Ashe County.
“So that’s where the discrepancy came in,” Yearick said.
The board ultimately compromised by compensating Buchanan at pay grade 78, Step 4.
“That’s as congruent with state law and our personnel policy as they could get, I think,” Yearick said. “Our policy says everybody is to enter at the minimum step level, unless they’re extremely qualified, which can allow the board to increase the step level, which they did in this case.”
Yearick said the board also decided Monday to increase an open sergeant detective’s position to $40,437 from $38,517.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.