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$175,000 manager salary cap? Placer County supes taking a look

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A $175,000 yearly salary cap for Placer County managers? It’s an option the Placer County Board of Supervisors wants to consider as it deals with deteriorating revenues and a shaky state financial outlook. Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery first broached the subject at the board level and supervisors have asked staff for more information on the salary ceiling idea. “Everything needs to be on the table as far as public tax dollars are concerned,” Montgomery said. “My contention is people need to lead by example.” The board has been given an initial view of what a $175,000 ceiling on manager wages could mean. Graham Knaus, finance and budget operations manager, outlined how a salary cap would have an impact on 25 employees currently earning above the $175,000 benchmark annually. Instituting a cap at that level could result in gross general-fund savings of about $500,000, he said. Deeper calculations into potential pension savings were not part of Knaus’s outline. Dr. Richard Burton, director of the Placer County Health and Human Services Department, is the county’s highest-paid manager, earning a total of $326,041 last year. Burton’s base yearly salary was $244,817, but that total was augmented by special physician pay related to medical board certifications, management benefits on sick and vacation leave that can be cashed out, and an auto allowance. Burton did not respond to a request to comment on the county wage situation and a possible salary ceiling. County Executive Officer Tom Miller is the county’s fourth highest-paid manager, earning last year $260,854. The total reflects a reduction of $9,000 in wages due to 12 mandatory furlough days he and other county employees took off. Miller said that in comparison to other counties of similar size and to private entities “as successful and complex” as Placer, he believes people would find that compensation levels now are fair. “Placer County is a three-quarters of a billion dollar business and employs over 2,300 persons,” Miller said. “Placer is fiscally sound and a provider of a range of quality services from law-enforcement to parks and everything in between – from Roseville to Tahoe.” Wally Reemelin, president of the League of Placer County Taxpayers, has helped head a drive in 1992 for a countywide vote that capped Board of Supervisors compensation at $30,000. He said he wouldn’t rule out a similar vote on staff compensation if it becomes necessary. Reemelin said the roots of current Placer County salaries lie in the boom years of 2004 to 2007 when prices were rising fast. “A lot of stuff was granted easily but no one objected because everyone was along for the ride,” Reemelin said. “Now the economy doesn’t support that and there’s a need to review the whole thing.” Reemelin said he would be against breaking contracts already in place but would favor lowering wages and benefits further as new county employees are hired. “I’m glad to see discussions taking place because things have gotten completely out of hand,” he said. Knaus said that some of the positions in the plus-$175,000 category are physicians and psychiatrists with state-mandated positions and contracts with the county. It could be hard to fill those medical positions because of difficulty finding qualified job candidates willing to fill posts with salaries comparably lower than other public and private employers in the region, he said. Supervisors are asking for more information to compare the work levels and pay in private and public jobs to see if a cap is possible. Discussion of the $175,000 wage ceiling was part of a broader-based budget workshop Tuesday. “I’m not opposed to entertaining anything like that,” Supervisor Kirk Uhler said. “But I’m interested in actually going one step further – that is, doing a salary survey of compensation at all levels. Why limit this just to management that makes over $175,000?” Uhler said he would like the county take “a good, candid, honest look” at what the pay is for comparable positions in the private sector. Tom Miller responded to Journal questions with a statement that noted he has an appreciation for the public’s interest in wages of all public employees, especially those in the top ranks. Miller added that the county’s top managers are responsible for directing the delivery of a multitude of services and play a central role in achieving a fiscal stability envied by most California cities and counties. Additionally, many of the county’s top managers have 25 to 35 years experience, he said. Comparing the consideration of a salary cap as part of a DEFCON 5 option, Supervisor Jack Duran said in a recent board discussion on the pay ceiling that supervisors needed to discuss worst-possible budget scenarios. DEFCON 5 – short for the U.S. government’s Defense Readiness Condition – is at its highest when it’s at Level 5. “If we have $8 million in reserves and we get hit with $9 million, we’re upside-down,” Duran said, using the term frequently heard during the current economic downturn for houses worth less than what they were bought for. “I think what we need to do is to look at all kinds of different operational cuts, from 5 percent to 7 percent to 10 percent,” he added. “And we (can) talk about haircuts for everyone with regards to salaries. We don’t know what the future is and we need to have this session.” Montgomery said she would like to see a salary analysis that would look at both the private and public sector, while also looking at wages in counties with comparable population levels. “It’s important to look at the private sector piece but also important to look at what other governmental jurisdictions of similar size are doing,” Montgomery said. An examination of salaries should also look at what employees are doing on the job and what their workload is like, she said. “Not just what other people with the same job descriptions do but what are they actually doing,” Montgomery said. “We know that some departments, their workload is through the roof. Other departments, it’s not.” Auburn resident Jennyfer Murphy said she likes the idea of a salary cap for managers and that $175,000 sounds about right. “It makes sense when you have a governor of the state who makes a little over $200,000,” Murphy said. “Right now supervisors and administrators make more than the governor.” Top 25 earners with Placer County in 2010 (2010 salary paid out, including longevity pay* in some instances, in brackets) Richard Burton, Health and Human Services director, ($244,817) $326,041 Donald Henrikson, contract physician , ($238,929) $291,756 Olga Ignatowicz , contract physician, ($239,212) $267,275 Tom Miller, County Executive Officer, ($237,822) $260,854 Ed Bonner, Sheriff, ($194,780) $255,397 Steven Sugden, contract physician, ($230,519) $245,856 Alexander Klistoff, chief physician, ($191,008) $235,530 Anthony La Bouff, County Counsel, ($210,861) $231,820 Brad Fenocchio, District Attorney, ($204,968) $228,213 Elena Ralik, physician, ($177,255) $221,568 Jeffrey Granum, sheriff’s captain, ($83,849) $219,305 Richard Malek, contract psychiatrist, ($201,481) $206,415 Allan Carter, sheriff’s lieutenant, ($65,471) $200,613 Richard Tornberg, sheriff’s lieutenant, ($47,543) $197,928 Devon Bell, undersheriff, ($145,169) $196,975 Gerald Carden, chief deputy county counsel, ($172,208) $195,011 Kathy Martinis, Auditor-Controller, ($173,737) $194,568 Jim McCauley, Clerk-Recorder, ($173,737) $194,531 Jenine Windeshausen, Treasurer-Tax Collector, ($173,319) $194,171 Michael Johnson, Community Development Resource Agency director, ($166,398) $192,318 Jim Durfee, Facility Services director, ($156,597) $187,691 Stephen Pecor, Chief Probation Officer, ($155,540) $186,458 Kristen Spears, Assessor, ($165,464) $185,608 Clark Moots, Administrative Services director, ($157,806) (182,154) Chief Assistant CEO (Vacant) $237,348 (maximum salary) Note: Granum, Tornberg and Carden retired during 2010 and cashed out unused sick or vacation pay. The amounts are not used in calculating retirement benefits. Bonner and Bell receive law-enforcement special pay, including uniform allowance, wellness incentive and education incentive. For some other executives, some vacation hours can be cashed out early. Managers do not get paid overtime. *Longevity pay increases salaries for employees at 5- and 10-year benchmarks. Source: Placer County