Compensation rules for county commissioners

The Guide to Michigan County Government is a great source of detailed information regarding the structure, function, and services provided by Michigan counties.

Michigan statute governs pay for county commissioners, in addition to the philosophical considerations we’ve talked about in another article. Ken VerBurg, MSU professor emeritus provides a description of those rules in the 2007 edition of his book, Guide to Michigan County Government

“Compensation Rules 

The basic rule for county commissioner compensation is that the board itself decides in advance how much the job will pay. However, counties may establish a compensation commission that has authority to set pay for elected officials, subject to county board approval. The question of commissioner compensation, then, is processed politically, first by the board and then indirectly by voters in a subsequent election. County commissioners determine the compensation by adopting a resolution if the county does not have a compensation commission. 

Effective date 

Any change in the rate of compensation for commissioners may take effect only with the beginning of a new term. The law does not require the board to vote on a salary increase before a general election. However, a salary increase must be approved by the board prior to the beginning of a new term. The salary change can then take effect as the new term begins. One could argue that voting on a salary change should be part of the budget process and occur during the “annual” session, that is, before the general election. The law does not require such a schedule, however. 

Mileage expenses 

Reimbursement for mileage expenses is not considered compensation under the law; hence, it is not subject to the limitation that a change in the reimbursement rate can become effective only with the beginning of a new term. A county board determines how much the county will pay for mileage, but the rate may not exceed the rate the state officer’s compensation commission sets for state officers. 

Other conditions 

Two other rules apply to the compensation question. One is that the state constitution forbids retroactive compensation for elected officials. This means that the board may not compensate one of its members for services provided previously or to increase the compensation for services provided previously. The other rule is that two-thirds of the commissioners must approve a per diem rate of compensation for the board chair if it is larger than the amount established for other board members. If the county has a compensation commission, however, only that body may decide the chairperson’s compensation.” 

Watch for future Michigan State University Extension articles about county government. For more information about county government please review Professor VerBurg’s book, Guide to Michigan County Government, Fourth Edition, which is available in electronic form online. This detailed document about county government provides extensive footnotes on constitutional and statutory information. The Fifth Edition is expected in fall 2016.

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