Supervisors put off increasing their own pay
Given the choice at their Tuesday, Jan. 16 meeting of introducing an ordinance setting their annual salaries at more than $40,000 each, the board members agreed to take no action. They haven’t had a raise since a 2002 ordinance set their salaries at 25 percent of a state superior court judge’s salary, then $32,263 a year.
California judges now make $171,648, in a state-wide effort to attract more experienced attorneys to the bench, according to County Administrative Officer John Ketelsen. Twenty-five percent of a judge’s salary now works out to $42,912.
“I think judges are paid too much and I think it would be absurd if we took the full amount,” said District 4 Supervisor and Board Chairman Brian Dahle, adding passage of the ordinance would be premature while the county is still negotiating with some of its employee bargain units.
Board members don’t run for office because of the salary, said District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman, but rather to serve the citizens and ensure positive growth. Between board meetings, committee meetings and frequent depositions in Sacramento connected with lawsuits against the county and the board, several members agreed they have to hire extra help to run their businesses.
“That’s part of the job that isn’t worth whatever we get paid,” said Chapman, referring to facing frequent lawsuits connected to board actions.
Saying the second week in January marked the 30th anniversary of his election to public office, Chapman said he initially made $747 a month. After he voted for a $50 pay increase during his first term, “I took more grief over that $50 than any other issue in the first eight years I served.”
He said setting their own pay can frustrate the credibility of all other decisions board members make.
“It’s not worth it,” Chapman said. “I’d rather have the credibility.”
So, he always votes against pay increases and instructs the auditor not to give him the increase until after the next election, Chapman said. After he’s been reelected, Chapman added, he feels voters have ratified the pay increase.
After voting for two pay increases during his 10 years on the board, Dahle said a neighbor he’s known “forever” questioned whether the board earns its pay.
“I said I’ll sign your petition papers if you want to have this job,” he said. “Either put up or shut up.”
Dahle said he’d be glad to show anyone his schedule. At the Jan. 19 meeting, the board approved a list of appointments to 39 committees and organizations, most of which require representation by a supervisor and an alternate.
Dahle added, “You can’t take your family to dinner” without someone asking about county business. “When you get elected you don’t have a life unless you leave Lassen County,” he said.
“Then, you take your cell phone,” said District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson. “Everybody knows my cell phone number.”
District 2 Supervisor Lloyd Keefer said he agreed with Dahle, “Our time is not our own,” he said, but added, “I think judges make too much money also.”
Keefer suggested the board look at taking half the judge’s salary increase or taking the package offered to employees, which includes a 6 percent raise effective Jan. 1, 2007, with two other 3 percent salary increases on July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2008.
Dahle said he’d like to see what counties with the same population and close to the same issues are paying board members. He said the board could then give itself the same package offered to employees or an amount similar to supervisors in comparable counties.
Hanson agreed the proposed supervisor’s salary increase “seems too large.” He said the board probably adopted the formula based on a judge’s salary to make the decision more impersonal.
“Maybe the formula is not correct,” he said, adding he preferred some kind of formula but did not want to adopt any increase until the county settles with its employee bargaining units.
District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle, agreed the board should wait until all employee contracts are settled, adding he would support the board getting the same package offered to employees.
Pyle said the formula was “a means to take the increase out of our hands. It’s not politically correct to give yourself a raise.”
When the board adopted the percentage of a judge’s salary, the amount was more reasonable, Pyle said.
“Now the salary is too high; I would not be comfortable with that increase; it’s too much,” he said. “We work seven 24s. There’s not a night I don’t wake up at 3 a.m. thinking about county business.”
Pyle said it is his 26th consecutive year in an elected position in Lassen County. He said he ran for office because he wanted to be part of the community.
Saying judges’ salaries are not out of line in Los Angeles County, Ketelsen promised to survey supervisors’ pay rates in comparable counties and bring the issue back to the board at a future meeting. The next meeting begins at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 23.
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