The Public Eye: Placer County supervisors consider asking voters to raise pay

03/23/2014 12:00 AM

10/07/2014 1:59 PM

Placer County supervisors are weighing whether to ask voters for a raise after a county panel suggested pay hikes are long overdue in the fast-growing region.

Placer supervisors have made $30,000 a year ever since voters passed a ballot initiative in 1992 to cap salaries. Unlike their counterparts in other counties, Placer supervisors don’t receive any retirement or health benefits. And they don’t receive any other perks like a vehicle allowance or a discretionary fund.

As Placer County’s population has nearly doubled to 361,682 residents in the last two decades, supervisor compensation remained unchanged. Today, Placer’s salaries are the lowest in the four-county region that also includes Sacramento, Yolo and El Dorado.

Some community members and officials in Placer County believe the time is ripe to explore a raise because supervisors are dealing with increasingly complex and time-consuming issues. Most recently, a county charter review committee recommended in January that supervisors should receive a pay hike.

“Placer County has been one of the fastest growing counties, and the board has a continuously increasing workload,” said Jim Williams, chair of the committee and a former supervisor. “The fact that there has been no change in their compensation in more than 20 years is just not right.”

The committee leaned toward three options: $49,813 per year based on cost-of-living adjustments since 1992; tying supervisor salaries to the pay of other Placer elected officials; or linking salaries to the pay of other supervisors in the Sacramento region.

Supervisors must soon decide whether to take the issue to voters, who are required under county regulations to greenlight any pay hike.

In the four-county area, Sacramento County supervisors are the highest paid. Four supervisors earn $97,648 a year in base pay, while a fifth, Don Nottoli, receives $94,910. Those figures do not include miscellaneous benefits valued at more than $30,000, such as health care, retirement contributions and a vehicle allowance. Nearly 1.5 million people live in Sacramento County.

In Yolo County, supervisors earn a base salary of $59,004, along with the same retirement and health benefits afforded to other county employees. El Dorado County supervisors make about $76,000, along with benefits. El Dorado also offers an allowance for cellphone charges.

Yolo and El Dorado are each smaller than Placer, with about 204,000 and 180,000 residents, respectively.

Of the five Placer County supervisors, only Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery does not hold an outside job.

After selling his auto repair business to run for office in 2004, Supervisor Jim Holmes said he initially struggled to make ends meet before landing a job with the Placer County Office of Education as the vehicle fleet manager, a position that offers benefits.

In the first year, “credit cards came in handy,” Holmes said.

Holmes, who supports a pay raise, said the low salary limits the type of person who can run for office.

“For any young person that’s interested in running – if they had a family, it would be impossible,” he said.

Supervisor Robert Weygandt relies on his family ranch to supplement his income. He also works as a part-time financial consultant.

“The $30,000 is not adjusted for inflation, so the purchasing power has greatly diminished,” said Weygandt, though he has not taken a position on the raise proposal.

Prior to 1992, Placer County supervisors received a salary of $54,138. But that year, a local taxpayer association successfully passed a ballot measure to limit salaries to $30,000.

Through the years, supervisors have twice tried to raise their salaries, first in 1998 to $35,000 and again in 2008 to $48,000. The 2008 proposal was voted down by nearly 75 percent, according to the Placer County Elections Office.

A supervisor’s role isn’t limited to twice-a-month board meetings. They serve on a number of regional agencies like the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission.

Holmes, for instance, was traveling in Washington, D.C., on business last week in his role as chairman of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency. The joint powers authority was instrumental in the construction of Highway 65.

Placer County supervisors must first vote to place a salary initiative on the ballot. Officials noted that supervisors have not confirmed whether they would go for the pay hike.

Asked what would be appropriate compensation, Holmes declined to provide a dollar amount.

“I would hesitate to say a number,” he said. “The board hasn’t discussed whether we’d lobby” for the salary hike.

A report by the Placer charter review committee shows that the county’s supervisors are paid less than neighboring Nevada County ($41,419), which has one-third of the residents of Placer County. Other counties in the state with similar-sized populations also pay better than Placer, according to the report.

For example, Santa Cruz County (population 265,981) pays $111,720, while Monterey County (420,668) pays $117,900 a year. San Luis Obispo County (271,483) pays its supervisors $82,014.

The California State Association of Counties does not keep track of supervisor salaries across the state’s 58 counties. Gregg Fishman, a spokesman for the association, said it’s difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison because each county is so different.

“It’s not a one size fits all,” Fishman said of salaries. “There’s a wide range of diversity among counties in terms of population and geography. Just the way they approach governance can be really different.”

Editor’s Note: This story was corrected Monday to reflect that four Sacramento County supervisors earn $97,648 a year in base pay, while a fifth, Don Nottoli, receives $94,910.

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