Merced County supervisors, judges get raises

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comDecember 31, 2013 

— Merced County’s five elected supervisors will get an unexpected surprise in the new year, a 1.4 percent raise, their first salary increase since 2008.

Supervisor salaries in Merced County are tied to those of Superior Court judges, so an increase in judges’ pay automatically gives the supervisors a boost. Supervisors get 54.2 percent of a judge’s salary.

Supervisors earn $96,904 per year, so the increase would raise their salary to $98,261, according to county management analyst Mike North. The last time supervisors got a raise, their salary was $93,116.20.

In addition, the board’s chairwoman or chairman gets a $400 stipend each month.

The new salary for Merced County judges will be $181,292, a hike from the current $178,753. The salary increase will be retroactive to July 1, 2013, said Linda Romero Soles, court executive officer.

Soles said judicial salaries are linked to pay increases for other state workers. Some state workers received small salary increases in 2008, but no increase was approved for judicial officers at that time.

The judges association and the Administrative Office of the Courts decided not to push the issue then, Soles said, but did press to have raises enforced this year. The 1.4 percent increase is the total of three years of average annual increases for state workers.

District 4 Supervisor and Board Chairwoman Deidre Kelsey said the decision was not in the hands of the Merced supervisors.

“We didn’t make it happen or ask for it to happen,” Kelsey said, adding the pay increase was a surprise. “It’s just automatic and we don’t influence that or control it.”

Kelsey said a 2007 ordinance linked Merced County supervisor salaries with that of judges in order to avoid conflicts of interest by having supervisors set their own salaries. It was a move Kelsey did not support, it passed in a 4-to-1 vote.

“That ordinance was put together so the Board of Supervisors wouldn’t have to examine our wages or be in control of our wages,” she said. “I did not support that ordinance because I felt that the pay rank was too high at the time it was established.”

The county supervisors were not subject to the 5 percent salary reduction that hit county employees two years ago but some voluntarily took the decrease. Kelsey was one of those supervisors, but she said she will not do so again.

Calls to the other four supervisors were not returned Tuesday.

Linking supervisor salaries with judges means pay adjustments are automatic and a public discussion or vote is not required. That’s different from how raises are handled for other county employees, said Maria Arevalo, plan administrator for the Merced County Employees’ Retirement Association.

In November, Arevalo came before the board regarding raises for two of her employees. She was met with criticism by several county supervisors.

“The only heartburn I have with this is when was the last time a county employee got a raise?” asked District 5 Supervisor Jerry O’Banion during the Nov. 26 board meeting. District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis chimed in with his disapproval.

“In view of the position they had taken against the raises I’d requested a few weeks ago, I was surprised to hear that they were now getting a raise,” Arevalo said. “I would have hoped that the Board of Supervisors had gone though the same type of public process that we went through to get our raises approved.”

Casey Steed, a local radio show host who previously ran for the District 2 supervisor seat, also took aim at the pay raises, saying increases should be based on job performance.

“What have they done to earn it?” Steed said. “Look at the poverty in Merced. Is the county’s unemployment rate that much better? If this was the private sector, they’d be fired. They wouldn’t get a raise. I think they hide behind the judges’ increase to feather their own pockets.”

Kelsey said she agrees the raises are unwarranted because of Merced County’s economic climate.

“Merced has not recovered from the recession as quickly as some of the more urban areas,” she said. “I think collectively we’re going to have to be mindful of what we do in the near future to make ends meet financially.”

When asked about having a public process to decide county supervisor raises, she said there already is one.

“I think there is a public process and it’s called an election every four years,” Kelsey said.

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Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or

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