Politics & Government

Merced County supervisors simplify their pay

MERCED -- Bowing to public criticism, Merced County supervisors moved forward Tuesday with a plan to make plain how much they pocket each year -- and how they get it.

A confusing and controversial way of compensating the five supervisors is being scrapped for a simpler system.

The board decided to revisit its salary and perks in June after a series of newspaper articles exposed supervisors' little-known benefits that added up to a hefty sum.

The salary system revamp won't change how much the supervisors earn each year, though their $93,000-a-year salary ranks 25% above the average pay for other Valley boards. Only Fresno County supervisors have a higher annual salary, taking home more than $100,000.

Chairman John Pedrozo, along with supervisors Kathleen Crookham, Jerry O'Banion and Mike Nelson, supported the changes.

The board will no longer be able to set its own salary because it will be pegged to a percentage of what California's superior court judges earn. The ordinance outlining how to compensate the board will come up for a final vote Nov. 20.

In turn, board members are eliminating all the other ways they have been paid in office.

Pedrozo noted that this way of setting the board's pay was clear and open to the public.

"No one can say we're taking public funds for no reason," he noted. "I really like this."

Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, who cast the sole vote against the change, said she worries that Merced County is giving up control and the salaries could unjustly increase in coming years.

"I'm not comfortable having our salaries tied to judges that are controlled with statewide criteria," she explained. "That bothers me."

State judges received an 8.5% increase at the beginning of this year after a push to raise their salaries.

Kelsey also was bothered that the county used the current total board compensation -- $93,000 -- as a starting point for the discussion. The current salary without the perks and sell-backs was fair, she said.

The elected leaders are compensated for sick and vacation hours that they never need to use since they don't have to report to bosses, punch a time clock or even work a set number of hours each week.

Those hours equated to about $4,500 every year and a $27,570 check when they left the county after 10 years in office.

Under the system that's being eliminated, they were paid a $73,522 salary and given $15,000 in annual cell phone, car and expense reimbursements.

Along with the sold-back hours, they took home about $93,000.