Tulsa County elected officials’ pay highest in state

Tulsa County commissioners voted Monday to approve a 2.1 percent pay increase. The raise is the maximum allowed by the law.

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Tulsa County’s elected officials are now the highest paid in the state.

However, one of them, Sheriff Vic Regalado, said he isn’t planning on keeping the additional money.

The eight elected officials’ yearly pay will increase from $104,600 to $107,000 — a 2.1 percent raise. They also receive a $600 monthly car allowance and $100 monthly phone allowance.

Elected county officials in Oklahoma County, which has a larger population than Tulsa County, are paid $105,300 per year.

In Cleveland County, No. 3 in terms of population, county officials are paid $85,800 per year. In nearby Rogers County, which ranks No. 6 in population according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 county estimates, officials are paid $62,400.

In Canadian County, which ranks No.5 in population, officials are paid $65,160 per year.

The officials receiving the increase are the three county commissioners, the county assessor, county clerk, district court clerk, sheriff and treasurer. The pay increase does not affect District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler or his employees because they are state employees paid through a different revenue stream. The current court clerk is Sally Howe Smith,  but Don Newberry was elected as court clerk in November’s election. He will receive the increased salary amount.

Regalado told The Frontier that he has to accept the pay increase but plans to donate the difference between his current salary and the new salary back to the county.

Tulsa County commissioners voted Monday to approve the 2 to 3 percent pay increase for elected officials and most county employees. Commissioners Ron Peters and Karen Keith voted for the pay increase while Commissioner John Smaligo voted against it.

The vote came less than one week after an election in which Keith was on the ballot. She was re-elected to office for a third four-year term, defeating challenger Josh Turley.

County Commissioner Karen Keith listens during a meeting of the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier
County Commissioner Karen Keith listens during a meeting of the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Keith did not return calls from The Frontier seeking comment.

The pay range for county officials is determined by a formula in state law based on a county’s population and the net valuation of its taxable property.

County commissioners vote on whether to accept an increase as allowed by the state’s formula but are not required to accept an increase provided that their pay is above the minimum allowed, according to the law.

Tulsa County reviews the formula every year to ensure salaries comply with state law, said Michael Willis, chief deputy county commissioner and public information officer. Willis was elected to the office of county clerk in the June primary and will receive the increased salary amount.

The raise approved Monday is the maximum allowed by the law.

This is the first pay hike Tulsa County elected officials have seen in two years. In 2014, commissioners voted to give county elected officials a $2,167 yearly increase.

During a phone interview, Peters said the board wants to make sure its employees are paid the appropriate amount. He noted the raises weren’t for only the commissioners, but for other elected officials as well.

Peters said the county is prospering with new jobs coming in, as well as several ongoing projects. He said he believed the raises were fair and reasonable.

Smaligo voted against the pay increase, as he has the last two times raises for elected officials were on the table.

In a phone interview, Smaligo said he voted no because he believed the salaries were already adequate. In the past, Smaligo has regularly voted against raises in part because he believes officials’ salaries have remained competitive with other elected officials in the state.

Smaligo said he believes that’s still true.

Willis said the county’s general fund is in good shape, and the county has maintained steady growth in the last few years.

Willis said that when he joined the county in 2010, employees had gone years without a raise.

Raises approved Monday also include the majority of county employees. Most employees will see a 2 percent pay hike and an extra $85 a month.

When asked why the decision to increase elected officials’ yearly salaries came after the election, Willis said the county tries to revisit the possibility of raises at the same time each year.

A spokesman for County Assessor Ken Yazel said the pay increase follows state law and that Yazel and other officials are abiding by the law.

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Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
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