FAIRFIELD — Solano County is the area of local government where elected officials have full-time jobs and get compensation in six figures.
Being on local city councils is considered part-time work and some local cities offer total compensation topping $20,000 annually. But such county positions as supervisor, sheriff, auditor-controller and tax collector have more time demands and much higher pay rates.
Overseeing the $800 million annual Solano County operation is the Solano County Board of Supervisors.
County supervisors get varying amounts of total compensation, counting salary and benefits. Supervisor Skip Thomson receives $135,249, Supervisor Erin Hannigan $146,244, Supervisor Linda Seifert $151,167, Supervisor John Vasquez $161,218 and Supervisor Jim Spering $166,398, according to Solano County.
Each county supervisor gets a base pay of $94,758 annually. That is based on a percent of the salary of a Superior Court judge as set by the state. The recession put a temporary halt to pay raises for the judges, so the judges and thus the supervisors last received a raise in July 2007.
Base pays for other county board of supervisors in the region range from $84,000 annually in Napa County to $149,000 in Santa Clara County.
Solano County supervisors also get a $10,400 annual automobile allowance and a $1,800 annual cellphone allowance.
Like other county employees, supervisors get longevity pay based on how long they’ve worked for the county. Serving in other local government offices counts as credit for county longevity pay.
Thus, Spering gets a higher longevity pay at $9,476 than Vasquez at $4,378, though Vasquez has been on the Board of Supervisors since 2003 and Spering since 2007. Spering served 20 years as Suisun City mayor.
Thomson, who worked in county government, served as assessor-recorder and served a previous tenure as county supervisor, is the longevity pay leader at $11,845. However, he has declined to receive it.
Finally, supervisors get varying amounts of health and retirement benefits.
Supervisors can pick up a few thousand dollars more annually, not from county government, but still from taxpayers. They also receive money from various regional agencies that they serve on as county representatives.
For example, the Association of Bay Area Governments board pays $150 per meeting and meets every two months in Oakland. The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District pays $100 per meeting and meets monthly in Davis. The Solano Transportation Authority pays $100 a meeting and meets monthly in Suisun City.
But not every supervisor is on every regional body and some regional bodies pay nothing. Spering can make almost $8,000 annually if every regional body he is on cancels no meetings. Seifert can make $4,500 and Thomson, Hannigan and Vasquez $2,400.
Solano County supervisors two decades ago made far less money, with the turning point coming in 1997. The salary for what at that point was considered a part-time job was $34,932 annually. That’s about $50,000 in today’s dollars when using the Consumer Price Index to calculate inflation.
Then-county Administrator Michael Johnson wrote a memo to the board saying that the county should be run more like a corporation and have full-time supervisors. He advised a $53,700 annual base salary. After public controversy, the board in 1997 settled on $49,399.
“My day job is being supervisor, my night job is supervisor and my weekend job is supervisor,” said then-Supervisor William Carroll to critics of the raise.
He said that higher pay would encourage more people with broader backgrounds to run for the Board of Supervisors.
The only present supervisor on that 1997 board was Thomson, who was amid his first Board of Supervisors tenure. He voted for the raise.
Supervisors also decided to link their salaries to Superior Court judge salaries, first at 46 percent in 1997 and then at 53 percent in 2001, when the board also voided its auto allowance of several thousand dollars annually.
In 2007, the board during a budget session voted to restore the auto allowance at $10,400 annually. It based this amount on American Automobile Association calculations of the cost of driving 20,000 miles annually. The costs include gas, insurance, depreciation and maintenance.
The only current supervisors on that 2007 board were Vasquez and Spering, who voted for the automobile allowance.
Since the county hit hard budget times in 2008, the suggestion has periodically arisen that supervisors should cut their salaries and their longevity pay. Thomson made the latest attempt at the March 26 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Thomson didn’t dispute arguments from this peers that they work hard and deserve their pay. Rather, he said they should take a pay cut to lead the county during tough economic times, even if the proposed savings would be small.
“It’s not major,” Thomson said. “It is essential.”
Spering said he told people before he got elected that he wasn’t going to subsidize the position. Rather, he said he would work hard, go after state and federal dollars and fulfill all of his responsibilities. People would get their money’s worth.
“I’ve done what I said I was going to do,” Spering said.
He also noted that, among the county’s budget cuts, no base salaries got reduced. Rather, the county required employees to pay greater shares of retirement and medical costs. Supervisors have done the same.
If people are asking him to lead by cutting his salary, he assumes that means they want to see staff salaries cut as well, Spering said. He’s not ready to do that, he said.
But, Thomson said, it’s harder for someone making $50,000 annually to pay 5 percent more for medical costs than it is for the supervisors.
Hannigan said she had an opportunity to earn more in the private sector, but she felt strongly she wanted to serve the community and county.
Seifert defended the supervisor salaries.
“These are jobs,” Seifert said. “This is hard work that we do. We have a responsibility to each and every citizen in the community. You want to make sure this work goes to people that are well qualified, that are talented, that are willing to make the time commitment, that are willing to commit the energy, that are willing to assume the responsibility to do the work that’s involved here.”
That March 26 meeting seemed to settle the issue for the foreseeable future – the supervisors will not cut their salaries.
Other county elected officials make more money than supervisors. County spokesman Stephen Pierce said salaries for these other elected offices are based on a comparison with salaries in other counties, just as is done for appointed department heads.
As with supervisors, the base salary is only a beginning. Such payments as longevity, health insurance, contributions to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and other retirement benefits provide significant boosts to the total compensation.
Annual total compensation for other elected officials are:
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.