JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Chancery and circuit clerks in Mississippi are paid under a fee system with a cap of $90,000 a year. Here's the problem: Many go over that cap.
Joe Martin has been circuit clerk in Jackson County for 34 years. He never exceeds the cap, in fact returning money to the county many years. He said others aren't quite as diligent.
"Some of the clerks are making more money than the cap, but we also have to remember that some of these clerks, like chancery clerks, have a lot more outside the cap," Martin explained. "But they're doing jobs that are outside the cap that the law allows them to do."
State Auditor Stacey Pickering wants to move to a salary system for clerk.
Terry Miller is the Jackson County Chancery Clerk. He made $111,000 last year doing extra work on homestead exceptions, and record restoration. He also has a reminder for Pickering.
"We collect a lot of fees that we remit to Jackson that helps run state government, and a lot of those fees do not stay with the clerk," Miller said.
According to Martin, paying a salary may even cost more than being paid with fees.
"If you go hire a staff and someone to do that job, you're going to probably end up paying more money than what it's costing right now."
As part of his effort to move to a salary system, Auditor Pickering said he wants to meet with circuit and chancery clerks across the state, as well as county supervisors. Some supervisors are willing to at least listen.
One of them is Troy Ross of Jackson County.
"The reason they came up with the fees is back when they developed all that, we were a lot smaller population and there weren't as many fees being collected," Ross explained. "As we've gotten larger and larger, I think it's natural to look towards a salary. Because if we look 20 years out, these fees will be collected at a much higher rate, if we don't do something now."
Miller is willing to listen as well, but many politically powerful clerks in the state are not.
"I'm not opposed to going to a salary for the clerks, but I'm just one clerk."
By the way, Chancery Clerk Miller said he's returned more than $2.5 million in excess fees to the county over the past several years.
This latest debate over fees versus salary is being sparked by a court battle between the Warren County circuit clerk and the state auditor. Pickering said the clerk needs to return more than $750,000 in excess fees. The clerk so far has refused, saying the fees are legitimate.