A small state agency tasked with regulating payday lenders doled out nearly $200,000 in raises in two years for employees at the Consumer Credit Department, according to state salary records.
The raises come at a time when an across-the-board pay hike for state employees has not occurred since 2006.
Roy John Martin, general counsel for the Consumer Credit Department, said the raises brought salaries more in line with the market and accounted for added responsibilities and promotions.
Martin's own salary increased $28,000 in the two-year period to roughly $90,500.
The largest pay increase went to a chief examiner whose pay rose from about $39,000 in 2011 to $77,000 in 2013.
Scott Lesher, administrator of the department, said some of the raises proposed for 2013 may not occur.
“Just because they're there doesn't mean they're going to occur,” Lesher said. “It's also a case where if you don't budget it and for some reason you wanted to do it, then what are you left with? Going back and doing a budget revision.”
Overall, the Consumer Credit Department's budget for salary expenses grew from $709,000 in fiscal year 2011 to $856,000 in fiscal year 2012. An increase of $1.3 million has been proposed for 2013.
Lesher said the majority of that increase has been due to the added responsibility of performing examinations — much like an audit — of Oklahoma mortgage companies that aren't banks.
But the salary increases also include sizable raises for employees, many of whom received large raises the previous year.
Lesher had the second-largest increase, from about $74,000 in 2011 to a proposed $105,000 in 2013.
Martin said the commission voted to increase Lesher's salary because they wanted to try and make it comparable to salaries paid to other heads of state regulatory agencies.
Lesher still makes less than two of his counterparts in state government, according to state salary records.
Insurance Commissioner John Doak made roughly $127,000 in fiscal year 2011 and Banking Commissioner Mick Thompson made almost $140,000, including his longevity pay that is awarded to longtime state employees.
New responsibilities for the commission came under the Oklahoma Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act, drafted in response to the 2008 mortgage crisis.
“Before that, we didn't do annual exams on mortgage brokers,” Lesher said.
“We licensed them but we didn't do examinations. Now we do, without additional FTEs, of course, full-time employees.”
Lesher said a manpower study showed an additional 25 to 30 examiners are needed, but the department is now making do with nine.
The budget documents provided to the nine commissioners who oversee the agency show that the proposed increase in 2013 includes hiring two new examiners at roughly $42,000 and an executive secretary at $49,000.
But Lesher said in addition to the agency needing more examiners, its examiners need to be paid more.
Examiners are listed as classified employees, which caps salaries for that position at $37,000. His 2013 budget proposed increasing those salaries to more than $40,000 in many cases.
Legislation to make examiners unclassified employees failed, and Lesher said the raises likely won't come.
Trish Frazier, communications director for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, takes exception to the idea that classified employees cannot be given raises.
Frazier said agencies can provide market adjustment studies and raise the paygrade for classified employees.
“There is a problem of unclassified employees, the agencies providing them pay raises and it not being a part of the system,” Frazier said.
8“There are many thousands of classified employees doing important jobs and the agency must provide them with fair compensation as well.”
She said the average classified employee in the state earns 19 percent below market.
“While not begrudging anyone getting a pay raise, we would like to see it throughout the agency, everyone being brought to the market levels not just a few,” she said.
Lesher said the commission plans to resume lobbying efforts this session to get the examiner positions unclassified.
Greg Piatt is the registered lobbyist for the agency. Piatt was paid almost $30,000 in 2011 and 2012. The budget proposed increasing that to $50,000 in 2013.
Lesher said the increase would hire Piatt's full firm — GAP consulting — rather than just an individual to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the state agency.
The Consumer Credit Department actually doesn't run on state funds. Fees and fines charged to the various lenders support the agency.
Lesher said the department recently increased fees in order to become a non-appropriated state agency.
In fiscal year 2012, it collected $3.5 million from pawn brokers, rent-to-own companies, mortgage brokers, health spas and precious metals dealers. That's up from $3.1 million in 2011.
Lesher said the agency pays 20 percent of its gross revenues to the state. It previously paid 30 percent, he said, but the percentage was reduced.
The only money taken from the state is $30,000, used to pay for consolidated IT services, Lesher said.