A dispute over the salary for the Morgan County treasurer could end in litigation if an agreement can't be negotiated with the county commission.

A dispute over the salary for the Morgan County treasurer could end in litigation if an agreement can't be negotiated with the county commission.

The dispute stems from a difference between the Morgan County treasurers salary and that of other elected officials. The treasurer may be owed more than $93,000 by the county.

For a number of years, Treasurer Louella Pryor said while other county officials were receiving 100 percent of what state statute allowed their pay levels to be set at, she was only receiving 74 percent. The percentages are set by the county's salary equalization commission.

Although Pryor is now receiving the same percentage as other elected officials, she said the county commission has made no move to agree to any type of settlement.

Pryor said she had hoped to settle the matter without drawing attention to the situation but when rumors started circulating that she was suing the county, she decided it was time to step forward to set the record straight.
Despite attempts to get a response from the county commission, Pryor said she has gotten nowhere.
From 2003 to 2011, Pryor's salary was set at $33,300. Based on her figures and interpretation of state laws, her salary should have been $45,000. Over the 8 years the difference is approximately $93,600.

Pryor said she offered to settle for 4 years or $46,800 without interest but never received a response from the county commission.
"They just haven't responded," she said. "I don't want an expensive lawsuit."

In response to a letter provided to the media by Pryor's attorney,  the Morgan County Commission issued a statement late last week, addressing their position.

In the statement, the commission said, "the issue raised regarding the salary increase for Treasurer Pryor has been a source of much discussion and confusion for the current Morgan County Commission.  Treasurer Pryor expresses her frustration with inaction by our office.  It is our opinion that what is perceived as inaction has been an exercise in the utmost of caution while protecting the interests of the taxpayers of Morgan County."

The statement went on to say the "commission, with the assistance of legal counsel we have retained, has spent a considerable amount of time evaluating the issues involved in what is a potential source of litigation for the county.  While we believe litigation should generally be avoided, and quite often can be if all elements of an issue are well defined, several statutory points and other issues add to our concern."

Additionally, the commission said they believe this issue should have been raised several years ago, at the time such an increase in salary might have been indicated.  At that time an initial recommendation from the county’s salary commission would have possibly resulted in a recommendation being presented to the commission for action. 

At this point in time, the commission does not believe the interpretation of the law as suggested by the treasurer is clear and when committing tax revenues the commission wants to protect the taxpayers from payments that might not be legal or required. 

Pryor says the salary issue was raised several years ago.
"Prior to the Tuesday, November 2005 salary commission meeting, I discussed this issue in great length with the commissioners and the county clerk. I explained that the treasurer's office was only making 74 percent while all other elected officials were making 100 percent and I felt this was wrong," Pryor says.

She says the commissioners and prosecuting attorney at that time specifically discussed a "base" salary that was prepared before the salary commission.
"I believe they misinterpreted the meaning of ‘base’ salary and failed to follow the letter of and intent of State Statute 50.333," Pryor says.

The base salary, she says, was presented to all elected officials at the meeting already prepared.

"During the salary commission meeting of 2005," Pryor says, "Morgan County Assessor Bob Raines made a motion to keep all elected officials salaries at 100 percent according to state statute. This motion was not recognized by the chairman instead then Western District Warren Anderson immediately made a motion to accept the base salary distributed by Marvin Opie. Presiding Commissioner Arment seconded the motion. It was very clear that the intent was to keep the treasurer at 74 percent instead of 100 percent like all other elected officials."

She says has questioned the legality of the salary ever since.
But when she heard Schraeder, the county's current legal counsel, speak at an October 2011 Missouri Association of Counties meeting on elected officials' salaries, Pryor says she knew then the treasurer's salary had always been unlawfully lower than all other Morgan County elected officials since she took office in 2003.

Pryor says she has used the word "inaction" because in the last correspondence she had previously received from Schraeder on behalf of the commission stated that he had not received any instruction from commissioners so could do nothing.

"Since my open letter to the County Commission, there have been no attempts to communicate with me to provide a reasonable solution that would prevent costly legal action," she says.

This is not the first time the difference in salary has been raised. It was noted in a past audit by the Missouri Auditor's office.