Merced County supervisors tackle vote on 2 salary hikes

11/26/2013 6:45 PM

11/26/2013 11:43 PM

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday wrestled with a decision by the retirement board to increase the salaries of two positions – but the supervisors’ opinions proved insignificant because the raises in question were already approved by the retirement board.

The item was brought before the board meeting Tuesday only to seek approval to change the positions’ pay codes, which is a function of the county auditor. Even though county supervisors had no power to change the decision to give raises, several of them made it clear that they didn’t like it.

“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 to scattered applause from the audience. “I know I don’t have a choice, but I don’t have to like it.”

District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis chimed in with his disapproval, shooting down a comparison by retirement staff between Merced County salaries and that of neighboring counties.

“I understand we’re not up to par with neighboring counties, but we are probably the poorest one out of them,” Davis said, adding that it was unclear exactly how much the raises would be. “That’s my humble opinion and I honestly can’t vote for this.”

The item passed through the board with a 4-to-1 vote, with Davis voting no.

The two positions receiving the raise are the plan administrator and fiscal supervisor. The plan administrator position will get a 14 percent raise and be bumped from the current range of $104,852-$127,545 to $123,240-$149,988. The fiscal supervisor will receive a raise of about 10 percent, increasing from $55,224-$67,184 to $60,632-$73,756.

Maria Arevalo, the county’s current plan administrator, will leave her position in March after eight years on the job to return to practicing law.

Arevalo won’t receive the raise, according to county staff, because it will be implemented for her successor. Arevalo’s current salary is $121,420.

Arevalo said Tuesday the increase in the plan administrator pay will help recruit a qualified candidate to replace her. Her position was last open in 2005, and it took the county more than a year of searching before they offered Arevalo the job.

“I think the board felt it would be difficult to attract a new plan administrator at that rate,” Arevalo said. “In this particular case, the board said when we go out to recruit we need to be more competitive.”

According to a survey by the retirement board, the same “plan administrator” position pays $178,693 in San Joaquin County, $150,000 in Stanislaus County and $135,000 in Fresno County.

The fiscal supervisor position is currently held by David Liu. Arevalo said that raise was warranted because Liu’s job description changed.

“Our fiscal supervisor has to produce additional reports that no other department has to produce,” Arevalo said, “and this is a huge amount of work.”

The raises were originally recommended by an executive committee created in July. It comprises four Merced County Employees’ Retirement Association board members: Karen Adams, David Ness, Alfonso Peterson and Michael Rhodes. Ness and Rhodes were removed from the committee in September because of a conflict of interest – they were interested in applying for the plan administrator job.

Darlene Ingersoll and James Pacheco replaced them.

The committee brought the recommendation to give raises to the Oct. 10 board meeting. The vote by the board was not unanimous; one person voted against increasing the plan administrator pay, and two voted against the fiscal supervisor raise.

Nine of the 11 board members were there, but only seven were eligible to vote.

Chairwoman and District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, who is also on the retirement board, said she supported the decision because higher wages are necessary for a well-functioning and capable workforce.

“When you go out into the larger world, it’s difficult to recruit if you’re paying much less for that position,” Kelsey said. “It’s not going to make a big difference overall as far the bottom line because it’s only two employees.”

The last time all county employees received an across-the-board pay increase was 2 percent in 2008 and 3 percent in 2009. Although the county implemented furloughs and a 5 percent pay reduction two years ago, Arevalo pointed out that raises were still given through promotions.

The committee also recommended a pay increase to the retirement officer position but was denied by the retirement board. Yadira Vazquez, the person holding that position, announced she will leave in December to take a higher-paying job at the county’s Public Health department.

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