- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The leaders of 37 public agencies and colleges in South Carolina are getting combined raises of $215,000.

The state’s Agency Head Salary Commission voted Tuesday to boost the directors’ pay by either 2 percent or 5 percent, depending on whether their evaluations showed they met or exceeded expectations. Amounts ranged from nearly $1,900 to $15,000. The raises take effect immediately.

Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, who chairs the salary-setting commission, said state government can’t adequately serve the people if it can’t keep talented directors at the top.

“If we don’t pay to keep that talent - and we see this happen all the time - people leave state government to go either to another agency locally or the private sector,” said Leatherman, R-Florence.

The 21 directors who received the higher marks are receiving raises totaling $174,000. University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides is receiving the biggest boost among the 37, increasing the state-paid part of his salary to nearly $313,000. The college’s foundation supplements Pastides’ pay with more than $500,000, bringing his total salary to $816,330.

The presidents of five other universities and four technical colleges are also receiving a 5 percent boost.

Outside of education, State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel is receiving the largest increase - nearly $8,100 - bringing his salary to $169,400.

The commission also set the salary of newly confirmed Department of Transportation Director Christy Hall at $180,000. That’s $24,000 above her predecessor’s salary and nearly $41,000 more than she made as a deputy director.

Rep. Mike Pitts, who sits on the commission, said Hall has excelled as interim director twice in the past two years - following the resignations of two directors - and commissioners are confident in her leadership abilities.

Hall takes over as legislators debate giving hundreds of millions of additional dollars yearly to the DOT to improve South Carolina’s roads.

“She’s brought the agency through tumultuous times twice,” said Pitts, R-Laurens. “She knows how the rubber meets the road - pun intended.”

The Agency Head Salary Commission sets and periodically reviews the salaries of directors at 85 state agencies and colleges. Those ineligible for the latest review included directors who have returned to work after retiring and those newly hired. The $215,000 in raises for the 37 evaluated directors represents 2 percent of the $10.9 million in salaries paid to all agency heads.

Some senators want the state budget to include a 5 percent cost-of-living increase for all employees starting July 1.

Leatherman, the Senate’s chief budget writer, declined Tuesday to address that request, noting he was not among the senators making that call.

Last fall, employees making less than $100,000 received a one-time, $800 bonus. Otherwise, employees have received two across-the-board raises since 2008: 3 percent in 2012 and 2 percent in 2014.

Carlton Washington, director of the State Employees Association, said he hopes Tuesday’s decision portends an across-the-board increase for employees in the 2016-17 budget. If the Legislature doesn’t adjust employees’ compensation, he said, state government will become a training ground for employees who stay a few years and then move on to make more money.

“We’re going to continue to lose employees,” he said, adding employees should get a raise before their bosses. “Maybe there’s a plan in place to do that. If there’s not, employees will be extremely disappointed.”

State employees have received raises outside of the budget process: State law allows agency directors to give pay raises at their discretion, provided that their budgets can absorb the increases. Of the state’s 59,300 full-time workers, nearly a third received such a raise last fiscal year.

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