A bill to raise the pay of probate judges statewide was introduced in the Alabama Senate on April 9 by Sen. Tom Whatley of Auburn. The bill would increase salaries based on a formula incorporating county population and years in office of the incumbent as factors.
The cost, to be paid by the counties themselves, would be approximately $1.3 million statewide, according to an analysis by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA). The increase would average about $26,000 annually for 49 probate judges who would receive increases. At least 14 probate judges statewide would not receive increases because their pay would be equal to the amount called for by the formula.
Blount County Probate Judge Chris Green would receive a pay increase of $39,684 effective Jan. 1, 2019, according to the formula, raising his compensation from $75,400 to $115,083 annually, if he is still in office on the effective date. The Marshall County probate judge, who has been in office 25 years, would receive an increase of $67,158 for a total salary of $145,860, if he is still in office on Jan. 1, 2019. The St. Clair County probate judge would get a raise of $31,200 for a total salary of $120,435. The highest-paid probate judge in the state as of April 17, 2015, is in Mobile County, with a current salary of $155,831.
All four Blount County commissioners oppose the increase and three of them have corresponded with members of the Blount County legislative delegation to ask the delegation’s support should the bill come to a vote on the floor of their respective assemblies. Their opposition was based on the fact that the increase would be an unfunded mandate for the county with a serious impact on the county budget.
The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee after it was given a first reading on April 9. It is not expected to emerge from committee in this session, though sources warn that expectations are not certainties.
“First of all, this has nothing to do with my current term of office,” said Green.“It would not take effect until 2019. It will take effect in the term after my current term expires. It will affect me if I am re-elected, or it will affect whoever is elected for the term after my current term.
“I am not a part of initiating this, so I have not taken an active role in it. I’m aware of some of the issues involved, however. The Alabama Probate Judges Association is very concerned with addressing some problems in compensation for probate judges statewide. The salary range for probate judges statewide is basically from $50,000 to $150,000. There are some who make too much money right now and some who are very inadequately compensated. For example, there are probate judges in a couple of small counties making in the low 50s who have not had a salary increase since the early 1990s.
“For my part, I knew what the job paid when I ran for office, and I’m content with what I earn right now. Some of the increases projected are large enough that they would be a hardship for small counties like us.
“In any event, I don’t think the Legislature is going to pass it.”