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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 7:41 am | Partly Cloudy 44º


County Supervisors Spar Over Their Own Pay Raises

Sparks flew on Tuesday when Santa Barbara County supervisors traded charged comments as they discussed whether to increase their own salaries based on the recommendations of an independent review committee.

Last November, the board directed the county's CEO to form a special citizens committee to review board member salaries.

That committee consists of leaders from the nonprofit and business sectors as well as representatives from the Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region and taxpayer groups.

Leaders of that committee presented the board with their recommendations Tuesday, and afterward nothing short of a verbal fistfight broke out among several board members over pay raises.

The supervisors ultimately voted 3-1, with Supervisor Doreen Farr absent and Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting, to revisit the item during their budget process later this summer, and to tie in supervisory salary increases to changes in the Consumer Price Index, with a minimum of zero and a maximum of three percent.

Several supervisors took special issue with Adam's decision not to approve a pay raise last December, and said he should give the money back to the county if he was truly opposed.

Those comments did not sit well with Adam, who took umbrage at the comments from Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Steve Lavagnino.

"It's ridiculous. ... You guys don't define morality," he told Carbajal and Lavagnino. "If we were at the ranch, I'd have a short phrase for you, but we're here so it's not appropriate."

Adam said he was hired after PEPRA was in effect, and receives less compensation than other supervisors.

Adam's chief of staff, Bob Nelson, told Noozhawk that Adam doesn't take any health benefits, and coupled with the pared-down PEPRA pension plan, receives $25,000 less annually than other supervisors.

Before the fireworks broke out, members of the citizen's committee talked with the board about how they approached the topic.

"It was the feeling of the committee that the board should be compensated in such a way as to not deter qualified candidates," said Committee Chair Jack Boysen, who is the CFO for Good Samaritan Shelter and also a Santa Maria City Councilmember.

The committee compared Santa Barbara County to what it determined to be "peer counties": Marin, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Stanislaus and Tulare Counties, which were chosen not just based on population, but how much unincorporated area those counties contain.

The review examined base salaries as well as additional compensation to peer counties and said that only Stanislaus was lower that Santa Barbara County in terms of salary. They did not account for retirement costs in their calculations. 

The committee recommended the board place itself firmly in the middle of the pack with its salaries, bringing them up to $106,575. The current board member salary is $84,200, according to the committee's presentation.

Committee vice-chair Ken Oplinger, president of the Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region, said that the committee felt it was important to look at it through the lens of the private sector, and that the salaries should be competitive.

The committee came to the agreement that peer counties should be surveyed every three years for salary numbers and make adjustments to supervisor's salaries based on those findings.

All acknowledged the inherent awkwardness of a governing body having to vote on its own pay increases, and that the decision might not sit well with voters.

Up on the dais, Carbajal said that the board should "take pride that Santa Barbara County was one of the lowest in terms of compensation."

One of Adam's staff members, Jason Parsons, gave a presentation after the committee finished their own.

Parsons said that Adam's staff had examined numbers found on the website www.publicpay.ca.gov, and "we focused on the total dollar cost to the taxpayer," he said, adding that they analyzed health and retirement benefits.

For example, one supervisor who brought in $74,000 in 2013, also brought in $48,000 in benefits that year, Parsons said. He also pointed out the 9-percent increase to salaries approved in December. 

After that, a back-and-forth unfolded between Adam, Lavagnino and Carbajal.

Adam stated that the board should evaluate themselves on the fiscal health of the county and said that the supervisors didn't need a raise.

In reply, Lavagnino said that 965 other jobs in the county system receive more pay than supervisors do.

After the pay raises in December, "I took a lot of heat" for the vote, Lavagnino said, and reminded Adam that he voted against the raises, but did not give the money back to the county or refuse to take it while getting kudos from residents.

"He got high-fived in the community pretty well for it," Lavagnino said of Adam.  "I think you should give it back, or support where we're going."

Lavagnino pointed out that Carbajal had taken money out of his paycheck during an employee furlough in the past, and the Adam should do the same.

Carbajal said he kept that move quiet, "so I don't even know how Supervisor Lavagnino found out about it," but confirmed that he did return money to the county after passing a furlough item for employees.

"It's one thing to kick up a lot of dust. … But to not have the audacity to return that money… I just think it's abhorrent to have such contradiction and be such a hypocrite," Carbajal said. "It's about being true to the public's trust."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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