Members of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, from left, Bob Nelson, Laura Capps, Steve Lavagnino, Joan Hartmann, and Das Williams.
Members of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, from left, Bob Nelson, Laura Capps, Steve Lavagnino, Joan Hartmann, and Das Williams. Credit: Joshua Molina / Noozhawk graphic

A pay raise is always a welcome boost for employees, especially in a time of rising prices, stubbornly high inflation and economic uncertainty.

Unlike most employees, however, members of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors have the ability to raise their own pay, and they recently voted to increase their salaries and benefits by $6,047 annually.

Each supervisor currently makes about $107,097 a year, with a total annual compensation package, including benefits, equaling around $140,000, depending on length of service, according to Transparent California, an independent public pay and pension database, and the county’s own website.

The new salary will rise to about $112,452, said Kelsey Buttitta, the county’s public information officer.

The vote was 4-1 to increase the board’s salaries, with Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson opposed.

“I took the job knowing that pay doesn’t equal the workload,” Nelson told Noozhawk. “I know my constituents would not support raising the salary of the supervisors.

“I’d prefer a citizen group be empowered with a recommendation, and it take effect after the next election.”

In addition to the salary increase, the board chairman — this year it’s First District Supervisor Das Williams — will also receive a 5% increase in biweekly chair allowance to approximately $79.30 from $75.52, as additional compensation “in light of the additional duties of the chair of the board.”

Board members also increased their auto allowance to $262 from $220 every two weeks.

Additionally, the board voted to raise the maximum annual increase going forward to 5% from 3%. That percentage matches the maximum increase allowed for elected department heads.

The county Human Resources Department tied the salary increases to the Consumer Price Index for the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Area, which staff said is the most comparable area.

Since the Board of Supervisors gave itself a 3% increase in 2021, the new 5% increase won’t take effect until the Sept. 18, 2023, pay period.

In explaining his vote, Williams said the supervisors are underpaid.

“I basically would not be able to afford to do this job if my wife wasn’t basically heavily subsidizing this effort,” he said.

“She locks herself up in what my kids call ‘The Cave’ for her consulting and her clinical work, and that’s probably not a strategy that we want to rely on for the future and how we get people to serve.”

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said housing is challenging for everyone.

“I don’t know anywhere you can live in this county where one person’s salary basically pays the rent or the mortgage,” he said.

“These jobs do take up much larger than 40 hours a week, when you talk about weekends and night times.”

According to data provided by the county at the May 2 meeting, the supervisors’ salaries are 30% below the market median and the market average for that Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Area Southern California region.

New Second District Supervisor Laura Capps said the increased compensation will diversify the pool of those who run for office.

“We want these jobs to be filled not by people who are independently wealthy, or retired, but actually raising kids and in the mix of the kind of work that we are doing,” she said.

The estimated fully loaded cost of the recommended 5% salary increase is approximately $30,345 for the remainder of 2023-2024 fiscal year, and approximately $39,445 annually
thereafter, according to county documents.