ROGERSVILLE — Compared to counties of similar size, and even much smaller ones, Hawkins County Finance Director Eric Buchanan is grossly underpaid — a situation some commissioners hope to begin rectifying in the 2020-21 budget.
Buchanan’s salary is $48,321 annually. The average salary of a finance director in Tennessee counties within 15% of Hawkins County’s population is $85,565.
However, improving Buchanan’s salary won’t be as easy and increasing his salary.
He is listed on the county salary scale as a “Level 12” employee, whose salary tops out at $64,619 after 20 years.
As a result, the Personnel Committee will have to create a new level on the salary scale for him, which would have to be approved by the full county commission.
Since Buchanan became finance director, there have been no negative audit findings that were within his power to control, and the 2018-19 Hawkins County audit report released by the state comptroller last month has zero findings.
Personnel Committee Chairman Mark DeWitte told the panel Thursday the commission doesn’t want to lose Buchanan to a higher-paying job, as was the case with the two previous finance directors.
One of them now makes $64,000 per year in the county school system.
Mayor Jim Lee said he believes the county finance director should be paid more than the school finance director.
“At least the average (of similar counties),” Lee said. “I believe that’s fair on both sides. Believe me, Eric is worth it. Eric does a great job and we’re going to lose Eric, and I don’t blame him. He can go to the next county over and make $30,000 more the first day.”
DeWitte noted, “Eric has asked, and I don’t blame him, that we come up with something to pass on to the Budget Committee as to what we want to do with his salary. There are other counties that tie it to some elected officials like trustee, county clerk and property assessor — some that’s between, some that’s higher, some that’s just a little bit lower than those salaries.”
Commissioner Bob Edens suggested that if Buchanan’s salary were increased to $68,000, that would put him above finance directors in counties with smaller populations than Hawkins County.
“It’s a little embarrassing to see $48,000 there with everybody else — smaller counties and less money than other counties,” Edens said.
Commissioner Danny Alvis suggested increasing Buchanan’s salary in increments over the next three years to a level comparable to other similar Tennessee counties. Alvis suggested that a one-time pay increase of $25,000 might not be well-received by the public or commissioners.
DeWitte said he will try to have a proposal ready in time to be considered in the 2020-21 county budget.