The Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners voted on Thursday, Feb. 16 to adopt pay scale increases for members of the Shiawassee County Public Defender’s office. The funding for the increases comes from the state, following the implementation of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission’s Standard 8. The new standard was approved last year to allow attorneys “the time, fees and resources to provide the effective assistance of counsel guaranteed to indigent criminal defendants by the U.S. and Michigan constitutions.”

   The new pay scale changes include a raise for the Deputy Public Defender to grade 12 (ranging from $71,052.38 to $86,900.74), a raise for the Chief Public Defender to grade 13 ($78,138.53 to $95,578.08) and a raise for the Public Defender to $112,000.

   During their Wednesday, Feb. 15 Committee of the Whole meeting, the commissioners also discussed raising the salaries of members in the Shiawassee County Prosecuting Attorney’s office to match the public defender’s office raises. Those proposed wage increases, totaling $64,431 annually, would have to come out of the General Fund, which the commissioners agreed is not currently feasible due to the county’s budget.

   “It’s nice that a portion of our employees are getting kind of a state subsidy, but we are not paying the increase,” noted board chairperson Greg Brodeur. “It is hard to turn down free money for our employees. Now, it does create some hard feelings with other employees, who say, ‘How come I didn’t get any free money?’ Well, that’s because that’s what the state did. We could bandage the hurt feelings here [in the prosecutor’s office], but then the next group will say, ‘But what about us?’ Do we raise everybody’s pay in the county because of this state request? I just don’t see it.”

   County Coordinator Dr. Brian Boggs added, “When you look at the economic distribution of Shiawassee County and the surrounding counties, all the areas around us have had more growth and development. As a result, they have more tax base to draw from for their salaries. Personally, I believe almost all of our county employees are underpaid by at least 20 percent. 

   “We’ve had an economic decline of about 11 percent of income,” continued Dr. Boggs. “We are the only county to have a negative impact in annual income throughout the entirety of the state. That being said, the budget is finite, and if you give [the prosecutor’s office], then you would have to do that everywhere else.”

   Commissioner Marlene Webster also shared her concerns with the pay disparity between the two offices.

   “The prosecutor’s office having lower salaries than the public defender’s office seems like it doesn’t speak well to law and order,” Webster explained. “How do you effectively prosecute crimes if your attorneys are incentivized to go to the public defender’s office?”

   Dr. Boggs later shared that the county’s upcoming yearly audit “should hopefully” show a fund balance increase, which could potentially provide the necessary funds to allow the board to revisit this issue.

County Public Defenders Get Raises was last modified: February 21st, 2023 by Karen Elford