I have written here about pay, particularly that of the elected Board of Supervisors. If that topic bores you, you may wish to gulp down some more coffee before reading further. I take this stuff seriously. Part of that is my general libertarianism, but the majority is plain common sense.
Today’s topic is longevity pay, but it goes a bit deeper.
The argument that you need incentives such as longevity pay to retain key people has some merit in late-2013 California and was compelling during the boom prior to the Great Recession. Fresno County, for example, has lost nearly a dozen members of its upper management team in the past 18 months. The latest is the county’s director of social services, who took the lead position in Napa County’s Health and Human Services Agency.
It’s a numbers game, as The Fresno Bee pointed out Friday. The Fresno County post paid $126,000 to run a department with a $580 million annual budget and 2,460 employees. The Napa County post pays $192,000 to oversee an $89 million annual budget and more than 400 employees.
There are vast differences between Fresno and Napa counties – the cost of housing chief among them. But taken together, the enhanced pay and reduced responsibility is a tough combination to beat.
Here in Solano County, those perks extend to elected officials. Members of the county Board of Supervisors are big on noting that they do for themselves what they do for those who are county employees. That means if the board asks county workers to pay a larger percentage toward their retirement costs, members of the Board of Supervisors do the same. It also means that so long as longevity pay – a bonus given to county government workers based simply on the number of years they have been on government payrolls – is offered to county employees, members of the Board of Supervisors and other countywide elected officials also benefit.
Sheriff Thomas Ferrara, for example, gets a 10 percent longevity pay bonus against his salary of just shy of $190,000. Longevity pay represents 6.6 percent of his total compensation of more than $287,000.
I don’t know about you, but my then-20 years of experience at community newspapers helped qualify me for my job as managing editor of the Daily Republic. The “bonus” based on my years of experience was the job itself, with the pay and benefits that come with the position. I actually make less now than I did when I was hired more than four years ago, rather than some 10 percent more, based on my nearly 25 years in the profession. That’s how the private sector deals with economic realities.
The Board of Supervisors in El Dorado County understands something of this. That board in November voted to end longevity pay, along with certain other perks, for countywide elected officials. The change is effective when each position comes up for election, even if the incumbent wins re-election. The county sheriff looks to make about $60,000 a year less, should he seek re-election and win.
I find it interesting that members of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors make $75,000 a year as their base salary. Granted, El Dorado County has less than half the population of Solano County, but it’s more than twice the geographical size of Solano. Median household incomes are comparable between counties, but the median home value is significantly higher in the foothills communities served by El Dorado County supervisors. One could argue that it costs more to live in El Dorado County, yet the Board of Supervisors in Solano County makes significantly more.
The board in El Dorado County also cut the link in its pay to that of other county employees. That policy stipulated that if the board granted pay hikes to county workers, other countywide elected officials – including members of the Board of Supervisors – received the same pay hike – automatically. Things became dicey for the El Dorado County board when it granted a series of three 5 percent pay hikes for the majority of county workers – 5 percent immediately, 5 percent in July 2014 and 5 percent in July 2015 – and were then faced with granting other elected officials and themselves that same raise package.
They chose a different approach, one that’s rooted in common sense as determined by county residents, not the county’s elected elites.
We have something like that here in Solano County, where the Board of Supervisors years ago linked its members’ salary to that of the state’s Superior Court judges. The judges saw a 1.4 percent pay raise this year, so the Solano County Board of Supervisors saw one as well – automatically and retroactive to Nov. 27, with no public debate.
El Dorado County is undoubtedly feeling the pressure felt by Fresno County to keep key people in place as other California counties entice prospective employees with higher pay and better benefits. Solano County undoubtedly feels that pressure as well. But leaders in El Dorado County see no need for longevity pay for elected officials. They also don’t see the need to keep prospective pay hikes for themselves a matter of policy, opting instead to make their pay a separate and distinct matter that’s open to public debate.
What do they know that our Board of Supervisors doesn’t know?
Reach Managing Editor Glen Faison at 427-6925 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.