MOUNT VERNON — As a commissioner, Teresa Bemiller has been responsible for appropriating millions of dollars to run the county.
One of the items she, along with her fellow commissioners, has crossed off departmental budgets requests is pay increases. When Gov. John Kasich signed the 2010 census, she, along with other elected officials, received an automatic pay raise. Unbeknownst to the residents of Knox County, Bemiller has been giving back the pay increase she since has been receiving.
“I obviously am a commissioner who does appropriations,” Bemiller told the News. “We have not been able to appropriate enough money to give individual employees increases and so I felt really conflicted about taking an increase.”
Bemiller said she has been making monthly payments of $700 ($1,050 in months with three pay periods) back to the county and never brought it up because she felt that was her personal decision and it was a private matter. However, the response from the public following Wednesday’s lead story in the News detailing over $100,000 in raises for county officials, made her step forward to set the record straight on her feeling toward the pay increase.
“Even when I talked with (News staff reporter) Chuck (Martin) for the story, I didn’t say anything. Now, it’s not quite fair that I am lumped in with everyone else,” she said. “It is hard to take the criticism when I know I’m not benefiting from the increase.”
Bemiller’s entire salary will be included in her W-2 form and she will pay taxes on the entire wage, including the money she gives back to the county’s general fund.
“I am responsible for the entire salary. This cannot be taken as a donation and it cannot be deducted from my taxes,” she said.
According to Knox County Auditor Jonette Curry, Bemiller is the only known official to refuse the salary increase. Curry said that Bemiller is refusing the increase until the end of this term.
The decision to return the raise was a moral one for Bemiller and she does not pass judgment on the other elected officials.
“I’m not criticizing any other elected official,” she said. “I made my choice for my own reasons because that’s what I decided to do. I probably would have never brought it up but it seems to be becoming more of an issue now.”
“I was aware of this, and I give her credit for doing it. It’s an individual choice,” said Curry. “This is the way our pay schedules are structured, and there can also be tax consequences. Other auditors in this category make this same amount of money.” Curry added that she believes Knox County elected officials should have been placed in a higher category 10 years ago.
“I hadn’t thought about it. I go by what the code says we should make,” said county recorder John Lybarger. “I can’t speak for somebody else, but she’s a good lady.”
The News attempted to reach several other county officials, including Sandy Mizer, Jim Henry, Mary Jo Hawkins, Allen Stockberger and Roger Reed, but they were unavailable as of press time.