Local Elections

Placer voters consider pay raise for county supervisors

Placer County supervisor salaries will more than double if voters approve Measure B, an initiative that has divided Republican leaders in this conservative stronghold.

Once passed, compensation would rise to $71,755 starting January 2015 from the current $30,000 annually that has remained in place since 1992, when voters passed a ballot initiative to cap salaries. The new wage would be adjusted every February, based on the average compensation for supervisors in neighboring Sacramento, El Dorado and Nevada counties.

Critics, like Roseville activist Tom Hudson, worry that hiking pay would invite career politicians to run for office and increase governmental meddling. They point out that the supervisor job has long been considered part time.

“The question is: do we want this to be a full-time job?” Hudson, executive director of the California Taxpayer Protection Committee, said this week. “The answer is a resounding ‘no.’ People here want limited government.”

Proponents of Measure B argue that times have changed, citing the tremendous population growth over the last decade and the need for supervisors to take a more hands-on approach to governance. Since 1992, the population has doubled to 361,682 people.

“It’s a good formula,” said Jim Williams, a former supervisor and chairman of the county Charter Review Committee. “It keeps the pay from being set by the supervisors themselves, and people can afford to stay in office.”

He added, “If you have an $800 million budget, you want them to spend time to make sure the money is spent efficiently and in the best interest of taxpayers.”

Placer supervisor compensation currently lags behind pay in nearby counties by a wide margin.

Sacramento County supervisors are the highest paid in the four-county area that also includes Placer, Yolo and El Dorado. 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.

Unlike their counterparts, Placer supervisors currently aren’t eligible for any retirement or health benefits. And they don’t receive other perks such as a vehicle allowance or a discretionary fund. With Measure B, supervisors can elect to receive health and retirement benefits as long as they pay 100 percent of their share of costs.

All told, Measure B in the first year would cost the county between $208,775 and $230,000, depending on the benefits selected, according to the Placer County Auditor-Controller’s Office.

Supervisor compensation has been a hot-button issue ever since a cap was instituted more than two decades ago. Two previous attempts to raise salaries failed by a wide margin, first in 1998 for $35,000 annually and again in 2008 for $48,000 a year. Nearly 75 percent of voters rejected the 2008 proposal, according to the Placer County Elections Office.

The current initiative was set into motion when the county Charter Review Committee in January suggested that a pay hike was long overdue. Then in July, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place the raise proposal on the ballot.

None of the five supervisors responded to repeated requests for comment this week. Of the five, only Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery does not hold an outside job. In earlier interviews, Supervisors Jim Holmes and Kirk Uhler expressed support for hiking salaries, saying it was long overdue.

“The salary is not consistent at all with the time effort that goes into doing this job properly,” said Uhler, noting that he wouldn’t be able to live in Granite Bay without an outside job.

Uhler was recently hired as CEO for the Sacramento Regional Technology Alliance.

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

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

In his first year as a supervisor, “credit cards came in handy,” he said.

Six-term Supervisor Robert Weygandt said in March that he relies on his family ranch to supplement his income and 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, who at the time did not have have an official position on the issue.

Measure B has sharply divided the conservative community. The Placer County Republican Party is opposing the measure, but Aaron Park, a conservative blogger and vice president of the California Republican Assembly, has voiced support.

Longtime Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner has endorsed the proposal.

Hudson, of the taxpayers group, has accused Measure B proponents of intentionally misleading voters by using ballot language that includes words like “restrict” and “limit” to describe the proposal’s impact on supervisor salaries.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “It all depends on what happens in our neighboring counties. Sacramento, El Dorado and Nevada counties would effectively be controlling our supervisor pay.”

Williams noted that even with the pay hike, supervisors in Placer County would earn less than those in other jurisdictions of comparable size.

A report by the Placer Charter Review Committee shows that other counties in the state with similar-sized populations also pay better than Placer. 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.

“It’s not enough to incentivize people to linger in the job other than a real dedication to public service,” Williams said.

Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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