The salaries of four of Berkeley County’s top officials recently increased, totaling around $104,000 and sparking disapproval by some taxpayers.
County leaders said the raises were approved by County Council in June as part of the county’s budget for fiscal year 2019-2020. The new budget year commenced on July 1.
According to data provided by Berkeley County, Supervisor Johnny Cribb, who’s been in office since January, will now bring home $174,757 annually, a 22-percent increase from the supervisor position’s December 2018 rate of pay, which was $136,081; but at that time the county was under the leadership of former supervisor Bill Peagler.
Cribb now makes more than the equivalent administrator position in Dorchester County ($159,311) but still less than Charleston County’s administrator ($210,849).
Data also revealed as a result of the pay raises, the salary of Les Blankenship, Berkeley County’s deputy supervisor, rose from $124,668 to $140,455; and the pay for county attorney John O. Williams increased from $116,513 a year to $132,537.
To compare, Dorchester County’s deputy administrator of community services makes $137,700 and deputy administrator/CFO makes $127,710, according to data provided by Dorchester County. Charleston County’s chief deputy administrator makes $175,364.
The salary for the head Dorchester County attorney is $155,026; the salary for Charleston County’s chief attorney is $361,078.
But it was Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis who witnessed the largest raise, from $109,409 in 2018 to $147,206—an amount below the salary of Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon ($163,155) but higher than that of Dorchester County Sheriff L.C. Knight ($105,094).
Berkeley County said all data provided was collected earlier this year, during the budget writing process, when staff was comparing employee salaries among various counties statewide.
Tom Fernandez, a local attorney, said news of the raises outraged him. He instigated community chatter on the topic after he posted the raise totals to the Facebook group titled “Berkeley County Growth and Development” on July 24. Fernandez is an administrator of the page.
However, all Berkeley County salaries over $50,000 are already part of public record and listed on the county website.
In one of Fernandez’s comments on his post, he said learning about the raises was “emotionally overwhelming” for him and made him “feel betrayed” by local leaders. He also called the salary hikes “a sorry excuse for political greed.”
“These politician raises are nothing more than an illustration that they simply do not care about the people of Berkeley County,” Fernandez told the Berkeley Independent on Friday.
“There are harder workers like teachers and first responders barely scraping by, and these raises given to these powerful politicians is a slap in their face,” he said.
According to the county, the money for the raises stemmed from about $544,000 in savings staff realized during the budget process after restructuring departments and eliminating positions—one position being a second deputy supervisor. Former Deputy Supervisor Tim Callanan was terminated in November; savings from his position was about $162,000, the county said. Les Blankenship remains the lone deputy supervisor.
“When one man saved the county $500,000 before taking office due to his fiscal responsibility, paying him what he’s worth is fiscally responsible,” said Councilman Tommy Newell about Cribb.
Newell said he felt the raises were justified and needed.
“If you could invest $104,000 into anything and save the county millions, wouldn’t you do it?” he said. “When the audit comes out, (taxpayers) will see the county go from losing millions to saving millions. I’ll also state for the record (that) not one of these men asked for a raise.”
Newell also defended the raises for the sheriff—whom he said “busts drug dealers left and right, engages with the community and increases deputy patrols to deter crime”—and county attorney.
“When our county attorney fights lawsuits and the countless other duties, being the lone county attorney, paying him what he’s worth…is only right,” Newell said.
Council Vice Chair Josh Whitley also supported the raises.
"These deserving folks earned every dollar Council voted unanimously to give," he said.
Berkeley County has just one attorney on staff, while others counties, like Dorchester and Charleston, have more than one.
According to the South Carolina Association of Counties, 2016 population estimates for each of the three counties included 210,898 residents in Berkeley County, 153,773 residents in Dorchester County and 396,484 residents in Charleston County.