El Dorado County officials earned more than peers thanks to salary add-ons

Seven of the region’s highest-paid elected officials stand to see significant reductions in their six-figure paychecks after El Dorado County supervisors moved to eliminate perks that inflated their salaries.

Beginning with their next term in 2015, El Dorado officials – including the sheriff, auditor-controller, treasurer-tax collector and four other elected department heads – will lose pay boosts for longevity, professional certificates or unused leave time.

Should Sheriff John D’Agostino seek and win re-election, he would see his salary fall from $226,411 to $177,986. County Auditor-Controller Joe Harn and Treasurer-Tax Collector C.L. Rafferty would see respective pay cuts from 2012 earnings of $196,366 and $179,332 to $148,699 and $145,538 – the average total salaries for similar regional officials – in 2015.

El Dorado leaders say the salary add-ons began more than a dozen years ago in better economic times when El Dorado County took steps to retain valued employees for fear of losing them to other government agencies or private employers.

The perks, tied to contracts the county had offered its public employee unions, wound up paying the El Dorado officeholders well more than the average for elected officials in other Sacramento regional counties.

“They just started getting more and more and more,” complained Board of Supervisors Chairman Ron Briggs.

Briggs led the recent 3-1 board vote to reduce future pay for the seven elected officials, who include the district attorney, assessor, recorder-clerk and county surveyor. He cited salary comparison surveys – from seven other Sacramento-area counties – that said the elected department heads in El Dorado stood to earn between 7 percent to 54 percent more than similar officeholders elsewhere due to increased longevity pay and other perks over time.

No officeholder’s current earnings will be cut. But as a result of the board action, salaries will fall by up to 24 percent in 2015 for newly elected El Dorado officers or incumbents who are re-elected. Their pay will be pegged to average total earnings for similar officials in Sacramento, Placer, Amador, Yolo, Sutter, Nevada and Yuba counties.

In D’Agostino’s case, the vote by the Board of Supervisors strips him of multiple pay enhancements, including a 10 percent salary boost for holding an advanced Peace Officer Standards and Training certificate. He could have earned an extra 15 percent with an executive POST certificate.

Since 2001, Harn and Rafferty have enjoyed 10 percent pay enhancements for being licensed CPAs. In addition, Harn, Rafferty and a third El Dorado County elected official, Recorder-Clerk William Schultz, received salary boosts for lenght of service. Harn and Schultz, elected in 1995, got an extra 10 percent in base salary for exceeding 15 years of county service. Raffery, elected in 1987, enjoyed an extra 15 percent in base salary for more than 25 years of service.

Among other regional counties, Sacramento, Yolo, Nevada and Amador counties don’t offer longevity pay enhancement for elected officials. Placer County allows a 5 percent enhancement after seven years. Yuba offers escalating pay enhancements for 10 and 15 years’ service time; Sutter for 10, 15 and 20 years.

El Dorado County’s longevity pay boosts started at 5 percent for 10 years, increased every five years and topped out at 16 percent after 30 years. In addition, the elected officials could take an extra 4.6 percent in salary for unused management leave time – a perk offered in only one of the seven other counties, Placer.

None of the other counties offered pay enhancements for elected officials’ CPA licenses. Only two – Placer and Sutter – boosted their elected sheriff’s pay for Police Officer Standard and Training certificates.

“The whole system enabled the incumbents to prosper and that’s bad,” said Briggs, who said the board voted to eliminate all longevity and “special pay” enhancements the seven officials receive above their base salaries. “We basically threw out all those (pay) differentials. No longer are any of those things in place. They’re gone.”

El Dorado County supervisors, who earn $75,000 annually, weren’t eligible for the pay enhancements.

The board took action on the salary issue after a yearlong county study. The issue also was fanned by local taxpayer advocates, who argued that incentives offered to retain career county employees and managers should never have been extended to elected officials.

“This is something that was going on that was kind of quiet and didn’t come to anybody’s attention,” said Dan Dellinger, a local political consultant and past aide to former state Sen. Rico Oller, R-San Andreas. “That’s the shocking thing about it. I don’t think most people have any problem with trying to keep good people. But nobody ever thought this would be extended to elected officials.”

Many of the pay perks were approved by supervisors in 1999 and 2000 as part of negotiations with county employee unions. Briggs said the pay enhancements for top managers, including elected department heads, were linked to union contracts.

Harn, the auditor-controller, stands to take the largest proportional pay cut – 24 percent – if he is re-elected in 2014. Harn, who was eligible to earn $202,630 under the county formula this year, had voluntarily accepted a 5 percent pay cut since June 2012. Harn said he supports the board vote and that he will run for a fifth term next year.

“My county-approved pay rate was too high,” Harn said, adding: “I don’t have a problem with the board’s action to reduce my pay.”

One supervisor, Ron Mikulaco, whose district includes El Dorado Hills, voted against cutting earnings for the elected department heads. Mikulaco argued in an interview that they are being signaled out while some top county assistants will earn higher wages than their elected bosses.

“We need to realize that elected department heads are, in fact, county employees,” Mikulaco said. “We’ve taken the position of investing in employees. And suddenly we’re going to take this very small group of employees and cut their salaries and strip away their (added pay) benefit. It’s not consistent and it’s not fair.”

Based on 2012 county salary data obtained by The Sacramento Bee, Undersheriff Richard Williams and a senior captain, Randy Peshon, earned more last year than the $177,985 the sheriff stands to receive in 2015. Williams earned $197,495 and Peshon $179,495.

The county’s assistant chief deputy auditor, Robert Toscano, earned $159,257 in 2012 – more than the $148,699 the auditor will get in 2015.

The pay cuts for the elected department heads taking office in 2015 won’t affect health and medical benefits. Under the state public employee retirement system, pension benefits for incumbents who are re-elected would still be based on their previous highest salary. But newly elected officials would get lower pension calculations due to the reduced pay.

The board action does not affect extra compensation earned by county officials, such as District Attorney Vern Pierson and Recorder-Clerk Schultz, for secondary responsibilities they are undertaking at the behest of the county.

Pierson’s salary of $207,215 last year included $37,043 he earned as the county’s interim information technology officer. He is overseeing implementation of a new financial software system connecting multiple county networks.

Schultz earned $146,468 last year, including $6,715 for running the county’s veterans services office.