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Another View: Time to review ‘slush funds’ and supervisor pay

Another View
By: Mike Holmes, Auburn City Councilman
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The issue of the legality and appropriateness of the use of taxpayer funds to support community non-profit events by local public officials has been an ongoing discussion for the past few years. For a number of years members of the Placer County Board of Supervisors have been allocated $20,000 each per year to disperse to deserving causes. Critics have called for the elimination of the practice as it potentially can be seen as a method to curry favor for votes at election time. The City of Auburn does allocate some public funds to support civic activities within the city such as the Festival of Lights parade and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Even this funding has been cut back substantially and requires the approval of the city’s Economic Development Commission and the City Council. Placer County is not the only jurisdiction where this practice has come under scrutiny. During my recent lobbying visit to Washington, D.C., one of the local newspapers ran the front-page headline: “Council ‘slush funds’ draw new scrutiny-D.C. lawmakers spend without oversight.” However, the system in the District of Columbia allows council members to raise up to $80,000 per year in private donations to be doled out as the council member desires. On Aug. 30, the New York Times editorial took the New York City Council to task for a slush fund of up to $49.6 million controlled by the Speaker of the New York City Council. Arguing that “the system is stacked politically” the Times called for the whole system to be scrapped. These examples make the Placer County “revenue sharing” system seem like small potatoes when compared to Washington, D.C. or New York City, but the principle is the same. Ten years ago I chaired the Placer County Charter Review Committee where we looked at possible modifications to the county charter. One area of keen interest was the compensation of supervisors. It was recently pointed out that Placer County supervisors have the lowest compensation of any county in the region. By way of background, in 1992 board salary was $54,138 per year. In 1993 a charter amendment set the board salary at $30,000 per year with no benefits. In 2001 the charter review committee recommended that the Board of Supervisors place a charter amendment on the ballot to set the board salary at $53,160 with some provision for adjustment based on the CPI. The board declined to take any action on the recommendation. In the almost 20 years since the board salary was set at $30,000 per year Placer County population has grown significantly and the business of government has become infinitely more complex. Having closely observed Board members over the past 10 years I conclude that these are really full-time positions and deserve to be paid adequately for their time and effort. Their aides, who don’t have the same level of responsibility, are compensated at a rate twice the members. Now is the time to seriously look at a charter amendment to correct this injustice. Let’s look at taking the “revenue sharing” funds and applying it to the member’s compensation It wouldn’t cost the county any additional expenditure and could encourage highly qualified candidates to run for office who might not now be able to due so because of the low salary.