Thirteen months ago, El Dorado County supervisors voted to strip generous salary enhancements for seven elected officials amid cries that the county was vastly overpaying its public servants.
On Tuesday, the board reversed itself and restored most of the pay cuts.
Major salary reductions were due to go into effect when officeholders were sworn in for new four-year terms in January. But the board voted to reinstate salary enhancements for professional certificates and years of service for seven elected officials.
Supervisors also voted to give additional pay perks to Sheriff John D’Agostini and Auditor-Controller Joe Harn, boosting their salaries with enhancements that are based on the earnings of their top assistants.
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The vote was taken after board Chairwoman Norma Santiago argued that supervisors had to correct an unforeseen equity problem: Under the new pay formula, at least five of the elected officials would be earning less, in some cases significantly less, than top assistants.
“That is the primary issue before us,” Santiago said. “This is where we are, and we’re going to try to rectify it.”
Before the vote, Harn was due to take a pay cut in January from $196,366 in 2012 to $148,699 in 2015. Now his pay next year will be set at $196,716, just above his current salary and 32 percent higher than the reduced amount he was slated to receive.
D’Agostini was due to see his pay fall from $226,411 to $177,986. Now he’ll see a more modest cut to $217,545.
Treasurer-Tax Collector C.L. Raffety was due to see her earnings fall from $179,366 in 2012 to $145,538 next year. Just elected to her sixth term, Raffety will now get a boost to $181,922.
Santiago and board colleagues Ron Mikulaco and Brian Veerkamp voted to reinstate 10 percent bonuses that Harn and Raffety have been receiving for being certified public accountants, as well as the 10 percent enhancement the sheriff gets for holding an advanced Peace Officer Standards and Training certificate.
In addition, the board restored longevity pay based on years of county service. As a result, Raffety will get a 15 percent pay enhancement. Harn, Recorder-Clerk William E. Schultz and County Assessor Karl Weiland will get a 13 percent boost and Surveyor Richard Briner will get a 10 percent boost.
The board approved an additional 5 percent pay hike for the surveyor.
Supervisor Ron Briggs led the board’s effort last year to roll back salaries for elected department heads, arguing that exorbitant perks had inflated officials’ pay such that they were earning 7 percent to 54 percent more than the average compensation for counterparts in Sacramento, Placer, Amador, Yolo, Sutter, Nevada and Yuba counties.
He was joined Tuesday by Supervisor Shiva Frentzen in opposing restoring the salary perks.
“The seven people we’re talking about … are public servants,” Briggs protested. “They knew going into this current election cycle that there would be a different pay structure (in 2015). Now we’re saying, after the election is over, ‘Gosh, guys, we’re going to reward these people. … It’s simply not fair.’”
But Veerkamp, who supported the pay cuts last year, said Tuesday that he made the wrong decision before. Veerkamp said the county created a problem by upsetting the salary tier structure, leaving many subordinates with far more earning potential than their supervisors.
According to salary data obtained by The Sacramento Bee, Undersheriff Richard Williams earned $197,495 in 2012 – more than $20,000 above what the sheriff was due to earn in 2015.
Harn’s chief deputy auditor, Robert Toscano, got $159,257, nearly $11,000 more than his boss was due to get next year. Bonuses for professional certificates and county service time could boost the deputy’s salary over time to a maximum of $195,864.
“I made a mistake last November because I didn’t do what my gut told me to do, to look at this comprehensively,” Veerkamp said, describing his change of thinking since his 2013 vote. “What we’ve done is tell our department heads, the electeds, that you are not worthy of the job you’ve done. We need to man up to that. We need to correct it.”
As part of the board action, supervisors further boosted the auditor-controller’s salary by the equivalent of 10 percent of the earnings of the chief deputy. The board also increased the sheriff’s salary by an amount equal to 13 percent of the undersheriff’s earnings.
The action infuriated Mike Owen, a local winery owner and former county official who lost to Harn in this year’s election for auditor-controller.
“We’re tired of a ruling class leading our county in Chicago-style politics,” Owen told supervisors. Referring to a recent Los Angeles County scandal of bloated pay for public officials, he added: “We’re tired of the city of Bell compensation schemes. … I ask: Who wants this increase? Why now?”
Harn, who said he took a voluntary 5 percent pay cut in 2012 and 2013, said he will take an unspecified cut next year as a result of the board action restoring his pay to higher level.
“I stayed out of it,” Harn said of the board vote. “It’s the board’s decision on how much I make. I ran for this job thinking I’d make less than $150,000 next year, and I was going to come to work and do my very best.”
District Attorney Vern Pierson, the only one of the seven officials not currently receiving a bonus for longevity or professional certificates, is due to earn $184,785 next year. Assessor Weiland is due to get $162,706. Recorder-Clerk Schultz will get $153,199 and Surveyor Briner will get $138,985.
Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.