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Sunday, Mar 16 2014 08:00 PM

Ask TBC: Will the 'extra-help' undersheriff deal really save the county money?

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    This photo was taken when the Kern County Sheriff's Office promoted RoseMary Wahl, center, to chief deputy.

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By The Bakersfield Californian

Editor's note: We received several emails and letters to the editor asking questions about the proposed arrangement whereby Kern County Undersheriff RoseMary Wahl will retire and then be hired back as an extra-help employee, working no more than 960 hours a year.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood said Wahl, 51, would be paid $76,000 a year and not receive any benefits, saving the county more than $200,000 annually.

The matter is scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors March 25.

These are questions and comments people had, and we address them:

 

Q: The article in Tuesday's paper stated that if Wahl is rehired at $76,000 per year for a max of 960 hours (almost $80 per hour), the county would save $200,000.

Is she really making $300,000 a year now? And how is the county going to save any money when we are funding her retirement and paying her "retirement" benefits?

A: The Kern County Personnel Department says Wahl makes $185,527.98 a year in total pay. That includes everything from base pay to management and longevity pay. Assistant County Administrative Officer Nancy Lawson said benefits cost the county 58 percent of Wahl's total pay.

If you add her pay to the current cost of her benefits, Wahl currently costs the county roughly $293,134 a year.

If Youngblood hired a full-time worker to take that spot it would, arguably, cost the county a similar amount.

But with Wahl working as "extra help," Youngblood doesn't have to replace her and she would only cost the county $76,000 a year.

Calculated that way, the county would actually save $217,134.

"That's two deputy sheriffs," Youngblood said. "Every place I can look to save this kind of money, that's what I want to do."

But shouldn't you subtract the cost of her retirement benefit from that number? That's also what people are asking.

The county does not pay the pensions of its retired employees. Pensions are paid by the Kern County Employees' Retirement Association.

KCERA manages pension investments for Kern County employees and workers from a variety of other governmental districts.

While the county does contribute to KCERA annually -- the county is already budgeting a $213 million payment for next year -- the amount it contributes will not be directly impacted by Wahl's retirement.

The county's required contribution is based on 1) the expected county payroll cost for the coming fiscal year and 2) the amount of money needed that year to bring KCERA's investments up to 100 percent funding, said KCERA Executive Director Gloria Domínguez.

 

 

READER COMMENT: The reason Wahl won't receive benefits in this "extra-help" package is because they are already guaranteed for life in her other (retirement) package.

 

A: Wahl, in fact, will not receive benefits for her entire life in retirement. Kern County retirees can continue receiving county medical insurance through age 64, after which they must switch to Medicare. Monthly retiree premiums are subsidized by the county -- through a program retirees pay into during their work life -- up to a premium amount of about $700.

Only single-person coverage on the two lowest-cost county health insurance plans costs $700 or less.

Retirees who are not on those plans must cover the remainder of those premiums, which top out at $2,538 a month.

 

Q: Will Wahl be replaced or will her old position remain vacant?

Wahl will not be replaced, Youngblood said. Working with a part-time undersheriff is how he intends to save $200,000 a year.

An additional note: This kind of arrangement -- where retired county workers are brought back in to fill open spots with "extra-help" work -- is used across Kern County's 40-plus departments to save money.

-- Staff writer James Burger

***

 

Q: It's been widely reported that the Kern High School District paid former district employees John Fox and Clemon Williams Jr. a total of $900,000 to settle wrongful termination lawsuits, but there has been no public disclosure of the settlement terms for Dave Rich, the third plaintiff in the case.

What ever happened with that?

 

A: The lawsuits were over allegations of kickbacks, bribes and improper gifts to district employees in the awarding of construction and repair contracts. Instead of putting those jobs out for formal bid or obtaining estimates for work in compliance with state law, the jobs were repeatedly awarded to particular companies.

Three employees who complained that the process resulted in wasteful spending were let go not long afterward and sued, saying they had been retaliated against for whistleblowing.

In August 2012, Dave Rich, formerly a maintenance supervisor for the district, was awarded $75,000 for him and his attorney. In the settlement agreement, the district said it "denied and contested" the allegations, but considered a settlement the most efficient resolution of the case fiscally. The agreement also required Rich and his attorney to promise not to "publish any opinion or information regarding the claim."

The Californian obtained a copy of the settlement agreement through a California Public Records Act request.

-- Staff writer Courtenay Edelhart

 

Ask TBC appears on Mondays. Submit questions to asktbc@bakersfield.com or to The Bakersfield Californian, c/o Christine Bedell, P.O. Bin 440, Bakersfield, CA 93302.

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