Supes clear up salaries in Merced

MERCED -- Bowing to public criticism, Merced County supervisors are moving forward with a plan to simplify the way they get paid.

The board decided to revisit its salary and perks in June after a series of Sun-Star articles about their little-known benefits that added up to a hefty sum.

The new salary system won't change how much the five supervisors earn each year; their $93,000-a-year salary ranks 25 percent above the average pay for other valley board members. Only Fresno County supervisors make more, 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 salary will be pegged to a percentage of what California's Superior Court judges earn. The ordinance will come up for a final vote Nov. 20.

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.

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

Kelsey said she 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.

Supervisors are paid 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 received about $93,000.

All the hours that they are able to sell back will be eliminated except for 160 vacation hours at retirement, worth $7,162 -- part of a lawsuit agreement.

Each board member will be paid 54.2 percent of the $171,648 that California Superior Court judges earn. That means each member will earn about $93,000 with no other reimbursements.

State law requires that judges receive salary increases similar in size to what other government employees are given, judicial spokeswoman Lynn Holton said.