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Shelby County Commissioners approve $2.98M to boost District Attorney salaries

On Monday, after hearing of broad pay disparities between Shelby County District Attorney employees and their state counterparts, the Shelby County Commission approved $2.98 million in annual funding to address the imbalance starting next fiscal year.

With the 9-4 vote, commissioners also shored up the current year’s pay scale. The D.A.’s office will receive $991,178 for the remainder of fiscal year 2024 from the general fund balance. 

“We will finally have this situation resolved,” said Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, prior to the vote. “You can do it out of fairness. You can do it out of a need for public safety. Either way, I’m just asking you respectfully to do it.”

Along with attorneys, the county D.A.’s office employs a variety of staff from criminal secretaries to criminal investigators. Of the 120 assistant district attorneys that work out of the office, 64 are paid by the county. The remainder are paid by the state. Although they often work side-by-side, state paid employees of the office earn as much as $70,000 more.

Since Mulroy took office two years ago, 54 assistant district attorneys have left the office, representing a 45 percent turnover rate. The lack of experienced attorneys often translates to longer cases. Currently, a single case can tie up a courtroom for over a month. 

With the approval of county funding, public defender’s office employees will receive a 75 percent  match. Like the D.A.’s office, it hosts both state and county employees. They will receive a $743,385 for the rest of the fiscal year. Their increase, including benefits, will total $2.23 million.

The gap in pay between peers has led to an ongoing exodus within the D.A.’s office. Young prosecutors and other vital employees gain experience, only to leave for better pay from the state or the open job market. 

It was amplified last year by the Tennessee General Assembly, when they approved a raise of state paid assistant district attorneys and criminal investigators. It was supplemented in April by a Senate amendment to up compensation for state prosecutors by nearly 20 percent.

“This situation, to me, is unique in that we’re talking about a disparity that existed…this is something that has been going on for a while,” said Commissioner Mark Whaley, who sponsored the legislation. “I think it was made more pronounced over the last year…I think it’s important to address it expeditiously and make sure it’s a part of our budget going forward.”

Mulroy is currently discussing more state-funded positions for the D.A.’s office with members of both state bodies.

Voting in favor of the budget amendment were David Bradford, Henri Brooks, Charlie Caswell, chairwoman Miska Clay-Bibbs, Mickell Lowery, Brandon Morrison, Erika Sugarmon, Britney Thornton and Whaley.

Commissioners Mick Wright, Amber Mills and Edmond Ford, Jr. abstained.

The amendment was originally introduced during a Jan. 31 committee meeting. It was sent down without recommendation.

Preferring to address a long-term solution during the next budget season, commissioner Mick Wright proposed an alternative amendment. It requested a $1.29 million bonus from $82 million in unused ARPA funds to supplement the current year’s payroll. Mulroy objected.

“If we only have a one-time bonus for this fiscal year, that will not adequately address the problem,” he said. “The employees need to know what their salary is going forward, otherwise the incentive for them to be looking for other jobs is still going to exist.”

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