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County supervisors support pay hikes for selves, other elected officials

Riverside County

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors tentatively approved double-digit pay hikes for themselves and five other Riverside County elected officials Tuesday based on comparative surveys but several members of the public complained the raises were self-serving and without merit.   

"I don't believe this board deserves any type of increase,'' Rancho Mirage resident Brad Anderson said ahead of the 4-1 vote on the two ordinances establishing revised pay scales. "This is about pandering to the ... (county) employees, rather than the people who live in this county."

Only Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, the most senior member of the board, opposed the hikes, which he has consistently refused for himself since first elected in 2012, making him the lowest paid of the entire board.

"This puts us in a bad position with the public,'' Jeffries said. "I truly believe this is a terrible mistake, and it's not going to sit well with taxpayers out there who probably make, at best, 60% of what we are proposing for ourselves. This is not the path we should take. You shouldn't take a vow of poverty to serve as an elected official, but it is a choice to be in the political arena."  

The initial vote by the board, which must be followed by a second reading of the modified salary ordinances and a final public hearing next month, set the stage for each member -- except Jeffries -- to receive a 19% pay increase, with members' annual salaries going from $190,783 to $226,359. Jeffries' annual base salary will remain where it has been since he started -- $143,031.

The First District supervisor is due to retire at the end of the year.   

Under the tentatively approved salary regime, District Attorney Mike Hestrin's salary will go from $273,463 to $351,481, a 28% hike; Sheriff Chad Bianco's salary will go from $273,463 to $347,771, a 27% jump; and Assessor- Clerk-Recorder Peter Aldana's annual pay will go from $195,191 to $247,859, a 27% raise. The latter adjustment will also be granted, at the same exact amount, to Auditor-Controller Ben Benoit and Treasurer-Tax Collector Matthew Jennings.

With the exception of Hestrin, who received a salary bump in 2018, the other four elected officials in that group have not received hikes since 2014, according to county CEO Jeff Van Wagenen, whose annual compensation package totals $362,679, according to public records.

The formula for board members' pay is benchmarked to Superior Court judges' annual compensation, with supervisors supposed to receive a minimum of 80% of what judges earn. Van Wagenen and county Executive Office staff said in a report that, in some cases, supervisors' chiefs of staff are currently earning more than their bosses.  

The same condition was cited, in part, for justifying the other elected officials' salaries. For example, Undersheriff Don Sharp currently takes in $305,062 in annual compensation, topping his boss' present salary by nearly $32,000. Sharp has worked for the sheriff's department longer and enjoyed union representation during much of his tenure.   

In government speak, when the boss makes less than a subordinate, the disparity is known as "compaction."

The board has been approving new multi-year compacts with the county's collective bargaining units, guaranteeing "merit" pay and related compensation hikes on an annual basis, even though some of the recipients are now telecommuting, removing some of their previous labor burdens.

"Maybe those earning less than $100,000 a year deserve a little raise to combat inflation, but those at the upper end of the scale can use a little sacrifice,'' Moreno Valley resident Roy Bleckert told the board. "I don't see that the time is right to be raising executive salaries versus the financial challenges we're having."   

Board Chairman Chuck Washington admitted it was "awkward" to vote a pay hike for one's self.

"But I think it's reasonable to make sure elected officials are not being punished because we're afraid to make tough political decisions,'' he said.

Market analyses provided by the Executive Office indicated that, among boards of supervisors, Riverside County's is in line with pay rates in neighboring Orange and San Bernardino counties, but lower than San Diego County's and Los Angeles County's. The average came to $208,669.

Among district attorneys in the region, Hestrin is equal to San Bernardino County's DA, but below the other three counted in the market survey, while Bianco trails them all. With his proposed comp adjustment, the sheriff would only be earning less than Los Angeles County's sheriff, by about $30,000 annually.   

"Our elected officials haven't had raises in 10 years,'' Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. "Compromising has been a very difficult thing. I support the (pay raises) for those elected officials to do the jobs they're elected to do."  

If approved at the board's June 4 meeting, the supervisors' salary hikes would take effect in 60 days, and the other officials' hikes would take effect in 30 days, putting the increases collectively within the 2024-25 fiscal year, at total cost of $812,501.

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