180628 Rick Singleton 3

Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton sits in his office Thursday. Singleton has received an award during the National Sheriff's Conference in New Orleans. [MATT MCKEAN/TIMESDAILY]

FLORENCE — Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton will get a 23 percent raise Oct. 1 after he petitioned two area lawmakers to pass a local bill in the recently completed session to increase his salary.

The $18,000 raise takes effect Oct. 1.

Singleton, who was elected to a second term in November 2016, will make $96,760 a year, according to the Lauderdale County Commission's office. He was making $78,760.

The sheriff said while the increase is a large jump, he believes it was deserving since he was underpaid compared to many sheriffs in the state.

"I don't know how long it had been since the sheriff's base pay was adjusted," Singleton said in his defense. "This puts the Lauderdale sheriff's salary in line with sheriffs of other counties of similar size."

Singleton pointed out he had been making less than two other elected officials — License Commissioner Rodney Pettus and Revenue Commissioner Danny Hendrix.

Pettus, who started as license commissioner in 2017, makes $84,000 a year and Hendrix makes $131,318 a year, according to the commission office. Hendrix's salary is larger because of regular pay grade increases throughout his 21 years in office.

Why a raise?

Singleton said he approached local legislators about a raise, asking that it start on Oct. 1 so it would not interfere with the current budget.

"That's the first time in my 40-something-year career I ever asked for a raise for myself," he said. "I was not comfortable doing it."

Singleton said he asked for the raise one year into the start of his second term because of the state's recent decision to remove a monthly supplement it had been giving sheriffs for providing food to county jail inmates.

"I had an average of $2,000 to $2,500 a month that was my supplement," he said. "I gave it up in August of last year, which was a month earlier than required."

The antiquated state law dating back to 1939 allowed most state sheriffs to supplement their personal incomes with taxpayers dollars left unspent after paying a set amount for inmate meals.

In January 2018, two civil rights groups — the Southern Center for Human Rights and Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice — filed a lawsuit alleging 49 Alabama sheriffs have repeatedly refused to turn over public records about the controversial practice of pocketing inmates’ unused food money.

That spurred state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, to sponsor SB228 to end that practice. Both the House and Senate approved Orr's proposal during the 2019 legislative session.

Bill sponsors

State Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, and state Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Greenhill, sponsored the local bill to give Singleton a pay increase. The bill passed April 30.

Singleton made his pitch for a raise last year during a county commission work session, but county commissioners never formally voted for the raise. After the lawmakers received Singleton's request, Greer said he called each of the Lauderdale County commissioners and received their blessings.

The legislators said a sheriff's pay increase requires a local legislative act. The bill was properly advertised before it was presented during the session.

Pettus said Singleton deserves the raise.

"If you look at the population of Lauderdale County, compared with any similar population, he was underpaid based on that," he said. "He has more personnel than any other administrator in the county, and was making the least of any of them. He's on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

He added that Singleton has to oversee the Lauderdale Detention Center as well.

By comparison, Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver's salary is $97,563.67. Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson is among the lower-paid sheriffs at $60,000 annually.

Lauderdale Commissioner Roger Garner said he is glad to see Singleton receive an increase.

"The sheriff's department is such an asset to Lauderdale County," Garner said. "We want to be fair to Rick. I supported it 100 percent."

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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