Ventura County supervisors voted without comment Tuesday to reduce a bonus that provided seven extra weeks of pay to elected officials and the chief administrative officer.
The cut in perks to top county officials came as the supervisors approved pay raises for 1,820 employees--including sheriff's deputies, middle and upper managers and maintenance engineers.
For the past several years, some top county officials have been receiving an "in lieu of vacation" annual bonus of $20,000 to $30,000 on top of their base salaries. But under public pressure, Supervisor John K. Flynn proposed cutting the perk, enjoyed by the supervisors, the sheriff, the district attorney, the treasurer-tax collector, the assessor, the county clerk and the chief administrative officer.
According to his proposal, which was passed unanimously by the board, the officials would be allowed to choose between two benefits packages.
Under one of the options, which is offered to most county managers, the elected officials and the chief administrative officer would receive a set amount of vacation time each year, based on their years of service. At the end of the year, they could be reimbursed for up to five weeks of vacation that they did not take.
Under a second option, the elected officials would still be allowed to set their own schedules and take off as much time as they please. However, they would only receive three weeks of extra pay per year as a bonus.
Flynn first proposed taking away the entire bonus, but he modified his request after some officials expressed concern that his proposal went too far.
According to county Personnel Director Ron Komers, most appointed managers receive an average of three weeks of extra pay in bonuses each year. Giving the county elected officials and the chief administrative officer any less would be unfair, he said.
But while a county taxpayers group blasted the board for not completely doing away with the benefit, one elected official criticized the board for cutting back on the benefits.
"It's not fair to cut the benefits of elected people who are in the middle of their terms," said Treasurer-Tax Collector Hal Pittman, who estimated that he will lose up to $8,000.
H. Jere Robings, executive director of the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn., disagreed.
"We have always said seven weeks (of) extra pay made absolutely no sense," Robings said. "There is no one in the work force that gets paid for 59 weeks. . . . It might be time that the entire benefits package be reviewed, studied and made public. So many forms of supplemental income have been uncovered, people are losing faith."
But Flynn and Supervisor Maria VanderKolk said after the meeting that the board agreement was a good compromise.
"I think that we are on the right path," Flynn said.
VanderKolk added: "It's similar to what everyone gets. I think it's fair and appropriate."
Meanwhile, the supervisors also agreed unanimously Tuesday to give raises to a wide range of employees, even though county officials have decided to cut 200 positions and reduce services to balance a tight budget.
About 265 Sheriff's Department deputies and sergeants will receive about 15% in pay increases over the next three years. Another 366 law enforcement workers will receive 10% in pay raises over three years, while 850 county managers will receive a $36-a-week pay increase, an average of about 3.7%.
About 200 maintenance engineers and other workers will get pay increases averaging 2.5%. And an additional 140 workers, most of them Sheriff's Department technicians, would receive pay increases of up to 8.5%.
"What we are trying to do is to value the people we have left and to continue to serve the public in the best way we can," VanderKolk said. "We have to treat them right."
The board members took action on the raises even though the Ventura County grand jury on Monday had requested that the supervisors wait a week until panel members had a chance to review the proposals.
Grand jury members expressed frustration Tuesday that the board did not follow their advice. At a time when county government is cutting back, panel members said they found it odd that the board was choosing to hand out pay increases.
"When you are cutting 199 positions, it just looks strange to suddenly see some pay raises," said Bill Stewart, a grand jury member. "The whole nation is caught in spiraling inflation. It upsets me to see how the dollar is devaluing, and yet we give raises."
Flynn said that although the grand jury's request "was important," it came too late.
"These negotiations (with the labor unions) have been ongoing for some time," Flynn said. "It is hard to interrupt the process of negotiations at the last minute."