As voters head out to the polls to choose their next county government leaders in Northern Kentucky Tuesday, they are also choosing to pay out nearly $1,711,712 in their tax money to pay fiscal court officials for what they do.
“Sounds like a lot to me. It's a lot of responsibility, so I get that,”said Gary Moose, 50, of Newport, Ky.
But others said they aren't sure what the top county government official -- the judge executive -- does for the pay.
“Seems like if you're getting paid six figures, I should know what you do in the county I live in,” Max Thomas, 28, of Newport said.
They work hard for the money… right?
Boone County Judge Executive Gary Moore, who took office in 1999, makes $111,462 annually as the county fiscal court’s head honcho.
“It is like hiring the county manager—you elect the county manager and is titled judge executive,” Moore said. He said that his job requires him to be on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“I do believe that we are offering a good value for the cost that is being charged,” he said.
As the county’s judge executive, Moore serves on Tri-Ed’s executive committee and appoints about 200 members to more than 40 area boards like, TANK, the Northern Kentucky Water District and the Northern Kentucky Health Department. Tri-Ed is the region's economic development agency.
The judge executive and fiscal court also manages county departments, including approving the budgets of:
Judge executives are also responsible for the day-to-day operations of the county as well as communication and working with other regional leaders.
“[I] provide leadership, bringing a community together and try to deal with issues as they present themselves,” Moore said of issues like the region’s heroin epidemic, in which Boone, Kenton and Campbell county judge executives are working together.
Kenton County Judge Executive Steve Arlinghaus makes $104,997 a year. He said that he works 60 to 70 hours a week in his position, which he calls the equivalent to what a mayor does for a city or the CEO of the county.
In the past, judge executives heard court cases, but today Arlinghaus' duties include overseeing several area boards including the Kenton County Airport Board, which manages the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
“We have a mixed bag of responsibilities,” Arlinghaus said, citing public appearances and 30-plus board meetings every month. As one of the largest counties in the Commonwealth, Arlinghaus also delegates to a deputy judge, who is appointed and paid $107,930 annually.
“I take this job very seriously. We have a tremendous role and a lot of responsibilities,” he said. “My role is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
They consider themselves the financial ‘watchdogs’ for the county jailer, clerk and sheriff’s departments—approving their budgets, Arlinghaus said.
The fiscal court is responsible for ensuring the county's budget is balanced, maintaining the county police and the county jail, and is responsible for all unincorporated cities, which do not have mayors or city councils.
The fiscal court consists of the judge executive as well as magistrates or commissioners for each of the county’s district, like Kris Knochelmann, who is also running against Arlinghaus, in the primary.
But while judge executives work on the day-to-day operations of the county, commissioners or magistrates only have authority inside a fiscal court meeting.
Magistrates are voted into office only by the district they serve, whereas commissioners are voted into office by the entire county.
According to Arlinghaus, judge executives are a bargain for the amount of hours they work in comparison to commissioners, who make $36,280 annually in Kenton County. Commissioners work about four hours a week at the fiscal court meetings, he said.
“If something goes wrong in the course of a day, it’s on my shoulders, not there’s,” Arlinghaus said. “It’s up to me to make sure day-to-day operations run smoothly.”
It is up to each commissioner to be as active as they want to be within the community outside of the weekly fiscal court meeting.
While Knochelmann initially thought the amount that commissioners were paid was a bit steep, now he said, it’s more than earned and then some, depending on the commissioner.
The owner of Schneller Heating & Cooling, said that he serves in his county role 20-40 a week.
Knochelmann said that he believes the judge executive’s salary is excessive.
In total, the Kenton County Fiscal Court’s representatives, who govern the county as a whole, make $321,767 a year, not including what he calls ‘fluff’. That money comes out of the county’s General Fund, stemming
from taxes like, property and payroll.
How much is your fiscal court banking?
Based on population, and determined by state legislation, the salaries given to the fiscal court officials: judge executives and commissioners or magistrates, are generated by the county’s General Fund, which is derived from taxes like, income tax, sales tax, property tax, motor vehicle tax as well as state and federal grants.
The General Fund monies are also divvied out to the counties’ capital improvements, as well as departments and entities, which the fiscal court oversees, like:
County general funds:
General fund for 2014: $32,280,698
General fund for 2014: $34,403,641
General fund for 2014: $14,629,694
General Fund for 2014: $11,465,048
General fund for 2014: $4,491,465
General fund for 2014: $3,230,00
General fund for 2014: $4,056,208
General fund for 2014: $3,691,522
General fund for 2014: $5,201,955
General fund for 2014: $6,559,661
General fund for 2014: $883,020
Judge executive raises are increased annually by the state on an incremental basis, which Arlinghaus said he was given about a $5,000 raise this year.
“Salary is set by state legislature. I have no say in my salary,” he said.
Jane Andreasik, Mark Nichols and Brian Niesz contributed to this report.