County magistrates in 23 counties would get a nearly $6,000 pay increase in a bill approved by members of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee Thursday.
Supporters of the bill, which also raises pay for magistrate assistants and magistrate clerks in the smaller counties, say the bill’s goal is to bring all magistrate court employees in every county to the same level of pay.
Currently magistrates are paid based on the population of their counties. Magistrates in the 32 largest counties are paid $57,500 a year and those in the 23 smallest counties $51,125. Supporters say their caseloads may be different but they face many of the same issues when it comes to tough cases like domestic violence.
State Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury told judiciary committee members Thursday the Supreme Court endorses the salary change and can absorb it with the High Court’s budget. The price tag is nearly $740,000.
Magistrates in the smaller counties received raises in 2003, 2005 and 2011, which Del. Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, says almost doubled their salaries.
“In the last 10 years the people in this position have had a total pay raise of 26-thousand 875-dollars,” Lane said before voting against the bill.
Del. Cliff Moore, D-McDowell, says the counties may be smaller but the magistrates’ work is getting more difficult with domestic issues.
“Who could imagine, 20, 30, 40 years ago, who could prognosticate these type of demographic problems would happen in rural West Virginia? Certainly I couldn’t,” Del. Moore said.
The committee passed the bill on a 15-9 vote.
Moore wouldn’t call it a pay raise bill.
“No matter how you couch it and it’s not an equalization pay bill but it’s a fairness and humane bill for the people who are doing the same work as other people around the state of West Virginia,” Moore said.
Magistrates in four counties, McDowell, Wyoming, Lewis and Wetzel had their pay go from the upper level to the lower level last month because their population numbers dropped in the last Census. Canterbury says the bill is actually a restoration of pay for those magistrates.
The bill would also raise the pay for magistrate clerks in the 23 smaller counties from $39,552 to $44,712 and magistrate assistants in those counties from $36,048 to $39,348.
The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee for consideration.