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Unofficial Opinion 97-19

Unofficial Opinion 97-19

May 29, 1997
To: 

County Attorney
Harris County

Re: 

The salary of a sheriff may be supplemented by the General Assembly through local law or by the board of commissioners when the board has been delegated that authority through local law enacted by the General Assembly.

You have forwarded your opinion and asked for a review of the question whether the board of commissioners has authority to supplement the sheriff's salary or whether it requires local legislation enacted by the General Assembly. The sheriff has made a similar request. For reasons which follow, it is my unofficial opinion that the sheriff's salary may be supplemented by the General Assembly through local law or by the board of commissioners when the board has been delegated that authority through local law enacted by the General Assembly.

The Georgia Constitution authorizes the General Assembly to establish by general law minimum compensation for sheriffs. Ga. Const 1983, Art. IX, Sec. I, Para. III. "Such minimum compensation may be supplemented by local law or, if such authority is delegated by local law, by action of the county governing authority." Id. The term "local law" used here clearly means local act of the General Assembly rather than a measure adopted by the county governing authority "because it is the kind of action denied to counties under constitutional home rule." 1984 Op. Att'y Gen. U84-12, p. 223. The powers granted to counties under the home rule provisions of the Constitution specifically withhold the power to take action affecting the salary of elective county officers such as the sheriff unless delegated such authority by local legislation of

the General Assembly. Such action "shall be the subject of general law or the subject of local acts of the General Assembly to the extent that the enactment of such local acts is otherwise permitted under this Constitution." Ga. Const. 1983, Art. IX, Sec. II, Para. I(c) (emphasis added).

The General Assembly, by general legislation, has established minimum annual salaries for sheriffs. O.C.G.A. § 15-16-20. That Section provides for minimum annual salaries based on county population, cost-of-living increases tied to state merit system increases, and five percent longevity increases based on completed four year terms of office. In addition, Subsection (d) provides that while no salary of a sheriff then in office will be reduced as a result of this Section,

successors to such sheriffs in office on July 1, 1991, shall be governed by the provisions of this Code section. All local legislation in effect on July 1, 1971, or enacted thereafter affecting compensation for sheriffs of the various counties shall be of full force and effect except where the same provides for a salary lower than provided in this Code section, in which event this Code section shall prevail.

O.C.G.A. § 15-16-20(d).

In 1979 the General Assembly by local act set the Harris County sheriff's salary and authorized the board of commissioners to provide reasonable annual cost-of-living raises for county officers, including the sheriff, whose salaries were fixed under the act. 1979 Ga. Laws 4573, 4574. However, because O.C.G.A. § 15-16-20 provides for a higher minimum salary than was fixed by the 1979 local act, the sheriff's base salary is no longer "fixed under the provisions of subsection (a)" of the local act and the authority to provide cost-of-living raises is no longer valid. Local legislation passed by the General Assembly establishing salaries, including supplements, lower than the minimums set forth in O.C.G.A. § 15-16-20 are repealed. Morgan v. Woodard, 253 Ga. 751, 752 (1985).

In summary, the Georgia Constitution authorizes the General Assembly to establish minimum compensation for sheriffs. By general law, the General Assembly has provided for minimum annual salaries and periodic increases for sheriffs and repealed local legislation which provides for lower salaries. The home rule provisions of the state constitution restrict the ability of a county to take any action affecting the salary of

any elective county office such as the sheriff unless authorized by local law enacted by the General Assembly to supplement the salary.

Therefore, it is my unofficial opinion that the salary of a sheriff may be supplemented by the General Assembly through local law or by the board of commissioners when the board has been delegated that authority through local law enacted by the General Assembly.

Prepared by:

DARYL A. ROBINSON Deputy Counsel to the Attorney General