In the face of mounting public resentment over excessive salaries and benefits for governmental employees, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors this week finalized or advanced three measures to reduce overall compensation in those portions of the public sector it oversees.
The board members at their meeting on January 24 confirmed their original vote on January 10 to cut their own benefit packages by roughly 40 percent. The slicing of their benefits reduced the total annual compensation package per supervisor by 17.6 percent, or $48,108, down to a maximum of $224,715. Eliminated were county retirement pickups, contributions toward 401(k) and 457(b) savings plans and medical expense reimbursements. Supervisors will continue to draw their base annual salaries of $151,971, and will received an annual benefits package worth as much as $72,744, which is down from $120,752. The board gave a required second reading to the reduction, officially passing it as an ordinance, and it will go into effect in February.
Supervisors Janice Rutherford and Neil Derry now want to do the same with regard to four other county elected officials: the sheriff, district attorney, assessor-recorder and auditor/controller/treasurer-tax collector. Rutherford and Derry noted that those officials are remunerated at levels well above the average salary provided to those holding the same or similar positions in surrounding counties.
San Bernardino County Sheriff Rod Hoops is currently provided with an annual salary of $225,574 plus $217,115 in benefits. On top of that, Hoops is paid $27,747 to serve as the director of county safety and security. Riverside County, with a comparable population to San Bernardino County, pays $104,059 in benefits to its sheriff, while Los Angeles County, with a population roughly four-and-a-half times the population of San Bernardino County, provides $200,839 in benefits to its sheriff.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos has an annual base salary of $208,458, which is supplemented by $152,821 in benefits. In neighboring Los Angeles County, the district attorney offers its district attorney a more generous benefit package valued at $181,762. In Riverside, the district attorney receives $86,869 in annual benefits. The average benefit package for district attorneys in Ventura, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and Kern counties is $117,826.
San Bernardino County Assessor-Recorder Dennis Draeger receives an annual salary of $204,352 plus $151,694 in benefits. Los Angeles County provides its assessor with $132,386 in benefits. Riverside County provides $73,105 in benefits to its assessor. The average benefit package for auditors in Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside, Kern and San Diego counties is $97,440.
San Bernardino County auditor/controller/treasurer-tax collector Larry Walker receives an annual salary of $252,288 for his work in those four capacities and is paid another $14,809 to serve as the county’s director of central collections. He is further provided with $178,363 in benefits. Riverside County pays $73,105 in benefits while Los Angeles provides $141,769 in benefits to their auditors. The five-county average is $96,536.
The board voted 4-1, with supervisor Josie Gonzales in opposition, to direct county administrative staff with the assistance of county counsel to prepare an ordinance eliminating certain compensation benefits provided to countywide elected officials, including the assessor/recorder, auditor-controller/treasurer, the sheriff/coroner and the district attorney, in order to bring total compensation packages for those officials in line with comparable Southern California Counties.
After dealing with drawing down the perks for themselves and the remainder of the county’s elected leadership, the board took up a proposal to require voter approval of future pension increases for the county’s rank and file employees.
On a 3-2 vote, with Gonzales, Rutherford and supervisor Gary Ovitt in favor, the board called upon administrative staff with the assistance of county counsel to draft a ballot measure that would give county voters the power of ultimate approval or veto of any retirement benefit increases tentatively approved by the board of supervisors for county employees, legislative officers and elected officials. That ballot initiative could be ready by the June primary.
Rutherford noted that the county is now paying out pensions for non-safety retirees that are 27 percent of the payroll costs of its current non-safety employees and that the county is paying to now-retired safety division employees pensions that are equal to 47 percent of what it is paying its current sheriff’s officers, firefighters, probation officers and district attorney’s office investigators. She said that the measure, if passed, will be similar to other measures in Orange and Riverside counties and will give to the voting taxpayers in San Bernardino County some level of control over how their money is spent. “This is, simply, insurance for the taxpayers who will be footing the bill long after politicians and union leaders are out of the picture,” she said.
Her call for the ballot measure was enthusiastically endorsed by Ovitt. Gonzales, who must run for reelection in June to remain on the board past this year, was somewhat equivocal in her support, indicating that she was tentatively backing the call to have staff draw up the ballot measure but that she would reserve judgment on whether to proceed with actually putting it on the ballot until she saw the language of the initiative.
Supervisor Neil Derry, who also is up for reelection this year, and supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, who has announced he will seek the Republican nomination for Congress in California’s 8th Congressional District in the June primary, opposed seeking the ballot measure outright. Both are likely to be highly dependent upon public employee union support and monetary contributions in their upcoming campaigns.
The county’s two largest public employee unions, the San Bernardino Public Employees Association (SBPEA) and the Safety Employees Benefit Association (SEBA) reacted immediately and negatively to the move.
Bob Blough, general manager of the SBPEA, which represents roughly 11,000 of the county’s general employees, suggested the measure would at worst violate those employees’ collective bargaining rights and in any case complicate negotiations between his association and county representatives since the outcome of those negotiations would be subject to second guessing by the voters.
Laren Leichliter, president of SEBA, representing some 3,100 sheriff’s officers, probation officers and district attorney’s investigators, was even more forceful in his opposition, indicating that in response, his union will now swing behind an already-initiated effort by a Wrightwood resident to gather sufficient signatures on a petition to get an initiative on the November ballot to reduce county supervisors to part-time legislative/administrative officers and decrease their salaries accordingly.
Reportedly, the signature gatherers working on the petition drive have already obtained 14,000 of the 53,000 signatures needed to qualify the initiative.
While denying that the union’s move was a counterattack on the board because of the Tuesday vote, Leichliter’s timing in announcing the petition drive left no doubt about the union’s motive.
“It is our position that the board of supervisors has become a part-time body and should be compensated accordingly,” Leichliter said. By bringing the county’s voters in to oversee collective bargaining negotiations, he said, the board had diluted its own authority.