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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 5/17/16. Hamilton County Commission Chairman Chester Bankston l
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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 5/17/16. Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham

The Hamilton County Commission could significantly boost the pay of its chairman and chairman pro tempore next week, when it also elects those same officers for the next year.

The chairman and chairman pro tempore currently earn 30.6 percent and 15.3 percent above the base commissioner pay of $22,230, or $29,040 and $25,633, respectively. A proposal would change those percentages to 40 percent and 30 percent in accordance with a pay rate established in a 1990 resolution. However, the old pay rate has not been used in 17 years.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor described the measure as a matter of "housekeeping" during Wednesday's commission meeting, and it drew immediate criticism from commissioners Joe Graham and Tim Boyd.

Re-establishing an old law that has not been followed for nearly two decades does not make it right, Graham said.

"I understand that this was a law on the books, but when this law was on the books, the rate of [commissioner] pay was only $6,000 a year," Graham said. "It makes a big difference."

If the commission approves the measure during its Sept. 13 meeting, the new chairman and chairman pro tempore salaries would amount to $31,122 and $28,899, respectively. The measure would result in increases — and backpay — for anyone serving as County Commission officers over the last six years.

The change from 1990 standards occurred during the fiscal year 2000 budget, Taylor said.

At that time, the commission decided to pay the chairman and chairman pro tempore an additional $5,000 and $2,500, respectively, but in accordance with a memo and not by resolution, he said. Since then, the two salaries have received adjustments matching that of the county mayor.

Both commissioners said they would support a resolution that codifies current payment policy for the commission officers.

"We need to correct the resolution to reflect current policy, and the current policy's been in effect for 17 years," Boyd said. "I'm in total agreement with that."

Commissioner Greg Beck called for his colleagues to approve the proposal without amending it as Graham and Boyd recommended.

"I don't agree with having a policy that doesn't reflect a resolution, and what [Graham and Boyd] want to do is turn it around and change the resolution to reflect policy," Beck said.

After the meeting, Commission Chairman Chester Bankston, Commission Pro Tempore Randy Fairbanks and Commissioner Sabrena Smedley all voiced support for the measure.

"To me, if the choice is between a memo or a resolution, I support the resolution," Smedley said.

However, Fairbanks and Smedley both said they would be willing to listen to alternatives.

"It fixes a problem," Bankston said.

Commissioner Jim Fields said he was still considering the proposal and had not reached a conclusion.

Commissioner Warren Mackey could not be reached for comment.

In February 2015, commissioners privately circulated a letter to send to state legislators that would disconnect their pay from the mayor's office and allow the body to establish its own pay scale. At the time, commissioners stood to make at least $25,000 based on the county's population.

Graham criticized the maneuver, citing lack of public discussion, and did so again when another letter emerged in December.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@times Follow on Twitter @pleach_tfp.