Sheriffs are the highest-paid elected officials in each county in Western North Carolina and are responsible for countywide law enforcement and the county jail. County commissioners set the salary and benefits for sheriffs. As with other local offices, sometimes those salary levels reflect the size of the population and health of the economy in a county, but sometimes they don’t.

Carolina Public Press made a records request to each of the19 counties of Western North Carolina for public records related to the compensation packages for the highest paid elected and unelected officials in each county.

Previous articles in this series have looked at the salaries for county commissioners and county staff. Today’s article looks at sheriffs and registers of deeds.


As with most other county-level government jobs, Buncombe County, by far the biggest county in the region, pays its sheriff more than any other WNC county. Sheriff Van Duncan receives an annual salary of $127,404 per year and, like most sheriffs, the county provides him with a take-home car.

But Duncan’s salary, while high for the region’s law enforcement officers, doesn’t breach the list of the top 10 highest paid public officials in Buncombe County. Statewide records show that Duncan, who received a $7,000 per year pay raise since the 2014-2015 fiscal year, is one of the 10 highest-paid sheriffs in the state, in keeping with Buncombe’s rank among the top 10 counties in population.

Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald makes $106,541 per year and is the only other sheriff in the region making more than $100,000. Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman is paid $90,396 per year, making him the third-highest-paid sheriff in the region.

WNC’s smaller counties pay their elected officials significantly less than those in larger areas. In the second-smallest county in the region by population, Clay County Sheriff Vic Davis is the lowest-paid sheriff in the region, making $56,770 per year. Graham County, the county with the lowest population in the region, pays its sheriff, $62,836. Avery County, Yancey County, Cherokee County, Madison County, Polk County and Mitchell County each pay the sheriff in the $60,000-$70,000 range.

Swain County, the third-smallest county in the region by population, pays Sheriff Curtis Cochran $79,746 per year, making him both the highest-paid elected official in the county as well as the second-highest-paid county official overall.

For a complete list of sheriff salaries by county, see below.

Register of deeds

The register of deeds is an elected official who is responsible for maintaining documents related to property rights, particularly for real estate. North Carolina law establishes the methods for preparing and storing deeds, and gives county commissioners authority to set a register of deeds’ salary and job expectations.

Buncombe County register of deeds Drew Reisinger is the highest-paid in the region, receiving an annual salary of $87,021 per year. Henderson County’s William King receives $73,310 per year and a $3,665 retention bonus. Haywood County pays Sherri Rogers $70,442 per year.

Graham County pays its register of deeds, Carolyn Stewart, the lowest salary in the region at $42,922 per year. Cherokee County, at $46,710 per year for Daphne Dockery, and Madison County’s $44,621 for Susan Rector are also on the lower end of the spectrum for the region.

Jackson County’s Joe Hamilton ($57,714), Polk County’s Sheila Whitmire ($55,053), Macon County’s Todd Raby ($55,280) and Yancey County’s Susan Jobe ($58,181) round out the registers of deeds in the region who make more than $55,000 per year.

County-by-county breakdown

Avery County (pop. 17,816)

Sheriff: $64,503

Register of Deeds: $50,623

Buncombe County (pop. 254,836)

Sheriff: $127,404

Register of Deeds: $87,021

Burke County (pop. 89,114)

Sheriff: $76,078

Register of Deeds: $51,692

Cherokee County (pop. 27,770)

Sheriff: $66,002

Register of Deeds: $46,710

Clay County (pop. 11,036)

Sheriff: $56,770

Register of Deeds: $52,307

Graham County (pop. 8,761)

Sheriff: $62,836

Register of Deeds: $42,922

Haywood County (pop. 60,631)

Sheriff: $82,557

Register of Deeds: $70,442

Henderson County (pop. 112,511)

Sheriff: $106,541

Register of Deeds: $73,310

Jackson County (pop. 41,597)

Sheriff: $86,180

Register of Deeds: $57,714

Macon County (pop. 34,771)

Sheriff: $83,585

Register of Deeds: $55,280

Madison County (pop. 21,663)

Sheriff: $62,224

Register of Deeds: $44,621

McDowell County (pop. 45,370)

Sheriff: $70,092

Register of Deeds: $47,688

Mitchell County (pop. 15,335)

Sheriff: $65,912

Register of Deeds: $49,627

Polk County (pop. 20,828)

Sheriff: $63,654

Register of Deeds: $55,053

Rutherford County (pop. 67,617)

Sheriff: $82,555

Register of Deeds: $68,521

Swain County (pop. 14,953)

Sheriff: $79,746

Register of Deeds: $60,004

Transylvania County (pop. 33,745)

Sheriff: $78,054

Register of Deeds: $61,472

Watauga County (pop. 53,737)

Sheriff: $90,396

Register of Deeds: $52,688

Yancey County (pop. 17,959)

Sheriff: $66,393

Register of Deeds: $58,181

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct an error in the salary for the Watauga County Register of Deeds.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You may republish our stories for free, online or in print. Simply copy and paste the article contents from the box below. Note, some images and interactive features may not be included here.

Michael Gebelein was an investigative reporter with Carolina Public Press. To contact Carolina Public Press, email or call 828-774-5290.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *