Local Politics

Sunday, Sep 09 2012 04:00 AM

New pay formulas for county elected officials proposed

By JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County supervisors on Tuesday will consider approving a new method for controlling pay raises for themselves and other elected county officials.

Three of the five supervisors voted in May to give themselves, county managers and other elected leaders raises of 6 percent over nearly three years.

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Supervisors also on Monday, during their monthly meeting at Kern Medical Center, will debate another topic that landed them in hot water recently.

In early August, two supervisors voted against an increase in the $70 million operational loan that the county's general fund maintains to keep the county-owned hospital running.

A misinterpretation of the rules that applied to the vote caused that decision to be interpreted as a "no" and triggered a cash crisis at the hospital that threatened to block payments to hospital vendors.

Though supervisors and their attorneys quickly righted the ship, members of the board called for recommendations that would prevent the incident from taking place again.

Those proposed policies are up for discussion Monday.

Assistant County Administrative Officer Elissa Ladd said the new rules would allow the county administrative officer and the Kern County auditor-controller -- who pays county bills -- to approve an increase in the loan to Kern Medical Center without pre-approval by the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors would have to bless the increase at the next meeting following the CAO and auditor's action.

The rules also require Kern Medical Center staff to provide extensive information about why the increase is needed -- including when a temporary increase can be terminated and the loan cap returned to its previous level.

Kern Medical Center needs the financial flexibility because state and federal payments for services the hospital provides can be delayed, sometimes for months or even a year or two.

According to a report from the Kern County Administrative Office, such requests for increase are expected in October and April.

An uproar from employees, who had been given only a 2 percent raise over three years in contract negotiations, forced supervisors to rethink the change.

The pay change had been triggered by a formula that created pay increases when front-line county workers got raises.

But it also included approval of a previous 4 percent raise that supervisors had decided not to award themselves in tough budgets years earlier.

In June supervisors rescinded the raise that they, the sheriff, district attorney and three other elected county leaders would have received.

And they called for development of a new policy to handle pay increases in the future.

On Tuesday Kern County Administrative Office staff will recommend a pay formula for elected officials that is limited by the growth of the economy, other county workers' pay and a flat percentage cap.

According to Assistant County Administrative Officer Elissa Ladd, supervisors and other elected officials would see a maximum annual increase of 3 percent.

That raise would shrink, in any year, to the size of the smaller of two numbers: the average employee pay raise or the amount of increase in the consumer price index for urban areas.

When calculating that raise, Ladd said, the county would always use the smaller number.

So, in a year when the economy is booming, county elected officials could still get a zero percent raise if county workers didn't see a pay increase.

And if county workers saw a major increase in their paycheck, county elected officials would still only see a raise equal to the consumer price index, with a 3 percent maximum.

In the last four years, using this method, supervisors would have only received a pay increase in 2009, when a 4 percent increase in workers' pay would have given supervisors and elected officials a 3 percent increase.

Supervisors currently earn about $125,000 in direct pay and special pays like allowances.

County staff analyzed the pay of Kern's elected officials in comparison to the same jobs in the counties of Fresno, Monterey, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, Tulare and Ventura.

Supervisors who joined the board after 2007 make about 6.3 percent more -- in total -- than the median pay for supervisors in the comparison counties. Those who came on board before 2007 earn about 1.5 percent more than the median.

Supervisors Mike Maggard, Jon McQuiston and Ray Watson came on board prior to contract changes in 2007, so they're in the 1.5 percent camp. Supervisors Karen Goh and Zack Scrivner arrived after and are paid 6.3 percent more than the median. Medical Center snafu revisited

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