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Madera County supervisors closer to raising own pay

Pastor Roger Leach of Valley West Christian Center accepts a donation of a gold coin from Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler for a grassroots project to raise funds for a display of the national motto, “In God We Trust,” in the board’s chambers. (John Rieping)


An ordinance that would raise annual salaries for Madera County supervisors inched towards approval with a 3-2 decision Tuesday that scheduled a final vote for Sept. 13.


Supervisors Rick Farinelli, Max Rodriguez and Tom Wheeler voted in favor while Brett Frazier and David Rogers voted nay.


The proposal would set the yearly salary of a supervisor in his first five years of office at $94,520, half that of a Superior Court judge, instead of 40 percent ($75,616). For supervisors with six or more years in office, the annual salary would be $94,520 — 52.5 percent of a judge’s pay — rather than 42 percent or $79,397.


Pay for supervisors last rose in 2007 and 2015. The newest change would be effective on Dec. 1.
To support the adjustment, an agenda attachment listed the supervisor pay rates for five other counties — Fresno, Kern, Merced, Tulare and Kings. These range from 33.86 percent ($64,009) to 60 percent ($113,425) of a Superior Court judge’s salary. The proposed raise would put the Madera County supervisoral salaries in the median of the counties chosen for comparison.


Madera County’s proposed 2016-2017 budget is about 9 to 72 percent the size of the 2016-2017 budgets for those other counties, according to public records.


“They were talking about the $2 (2.7) billion budget that Fresno has,” said Wheeler in response to public comments at the meeting. “It don’t make a difference if it is $50,000 or $50 billion, it’s all the same type of work that we gotta do to make it balance and have a successful county. … This is not an easy job. You guys think it is, come up here and step in my shoes just for one day and you’ll find out it’s not.”


“This board brought us from a failure when basically we were actually looking at bankruptcy when I started to an A (credit rating from) Standard & Poor,” said Farinelli. “That means we can get loans for social services. We can get loans for projects. We can get different grants and bonds … Don’t listen to media stuff ... but actually look (at) what this board has done.”


“We have a good board here,” said Rodriguez. “These people are highly intelligent. This man here (Farinelli) comes in at 7 o’clock every morning (and) stays until 5 (or) 5:30 then goes to meetings, and he does it five days a week. This guy here I don’t see how he does it, and I do the same thing.”
“I just want to simply state that I have never voted myself a raise of any kind throughout my tenure, either with the city of Chowchilla or as an elected representative,” said Rogers in his only comment on the ordinance.


Comments from the public at the meeting reminded supervisors about a labor market survey by a Sacramento-based consulting firm hired by Madera County. CPS HR Consulting compared local government employee pay to 10 California counties and concluded that the county’s elected officials, excluding department heads, had a base salary 8.08 percent over market as of Aug. 1, 2015. With benefits included, it remained 6.62 percent above the market median. Meanwhile other job categories were roughly 9 to 31 percent under market for total compensation.


Employee pay improved following the survey, though not necessarily to the market level determined by CPS HR Consulting.


“They surveyed 10 counties. I couldn’t believe how numbers could be so different when you cherry-pick five counties out,” said Valley resident Dale Drozen. “Fresno County has 10 times the budget to manage that you do. You can skew the numbers and show that you should have a raise. But when you look at the study that we paid over $50,000 for, it says you’re already paid 8 percent more than the median.”


“I see this board and I’ve had the opportunity to work with all you guys,” said Lt. Jerry King of Madera County Department of Corrections. “Brett, I was with you in high school playing football. He was all about teamwork. You were the leader of the team and you were always encouraging everybody on the team to keep getting better and better. David, you and I have been on the wall together. It’s not about one guy making the summit. It’s about all of us making the summit … There are a lot of single men and women who have families and are trying to make it. And if the salary survey … (was) good enough for everybody in the county, that (survey) should be good enough for all of us together as a team.”


California’s annual pay for county supervisors ranges from $17,000 to $178,789, according to a 2010 analysis of 58 counties by KPBS. Currently the state’s highest paid county supervisors (Los Angeles County) earn $189,041 yearly — the same as Superior Court judges. The highest salary proposed for Madera County supervisors ($94,520) would be equivalent to a $150,287 salary in Los Angeles after adjusting for cost of living differences, according to Sperling’s Best Places.


“This board of supervisors makes half the amount of anybody, any other elected official, in the whole county,” said Farinelli at the board meeting. “Half. … Everything that happens in Madera County happens with this board. I don’t care what study you look at.”


Supervisors are indeed the lowest paid elected officials in Madera County. The highest paid are the sheriff-coroner and the district attorney. As of February 9, the annual base salary of Madera County supervisors was 43.4 to 72.6 percent that of other elected officials in Madera County, according to public records.


“This board has established a new criteria that hasn’t been seen in 20-something years,” said Farinelli. “The things that were solved with this new county counsel have saved this county a lot of money … Solar that we just put in (saves) $15 million. That was a hard decision to make. Because it’s solar it’s a sustainable program — $15 million every year. That’s just some of it.”


At a cost of $11 million, OpTerra Energy Services installed solar panels to collect 1.6 megawatts of power for the county’s government center, library and jail facilities this spring. The panels are expected to save nearly $15 million total over the lifetime of their usage, OpTerra stated. PG&E also gave the county a $1.4 million California Solar Initiative rebate for the project.