A dozen top Ventura County officials will be allowed to refuse a large lump-sum payment for seven weeks' vacation pay and other controversial perks accrued in 1992, the Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.
The board made the unanimous decision in the wake of last week's disclosure that a dozen officials were in line to receive between $12,000 and $26,000 apiece for the vacation pay, despite a vote to cut this and other perks beginning Jan. 3.
The move gives county officials a chance to turn down the special vacation pay that they accrued before the supervisors' decision last week to raise their base pay in exchange for eliminating such perks.
The board action--passed as an emergency measure--overturns an earlier ruling by the county counsel's office that the officials must accept all perks offered during 1992.
Officials said they hope that the action will put to rest a heated controversy that erupted in September, when it was revealed that more than $270,000 had been tacked on to officials' base salaries last year to reward them for their longevity in office, their educational attainment and to award them an automatic seven weeks' pay for vacation.
Supervisor Vicky Howard, who made the motion to allow officials to decline the perks, said it should help officials put the issue behind them. "It gives us freedom," she said.
But members of the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn. criticized the decision for not going far enough.
"I'm just astounded that they are still going to get the perks that they believe they are entitled to (for 1992)," said Jere Robings, executive director of the association. "Politically it's a mistake.
"The taxpaying public is going to be outraged. We'll be watching to see who accepts the money."
Association member Don Hollingsworth added: "They'll all take the money. It will show their true smoke."
So far, Supervisors Howard and John K. Flynn said they plan to decline the vacation perk--which will range from $12,223 to $14,575 for each of the five board members.
"Each person has to decide for himself or herself," said Flynn, who tried to refuse a variety of perks in October but was told that he had to take the money. "The waiver makes it easier for me."
Supervisor Maggie Kildee said she plans to accept the money, while Supervisor Maria VanderKolk said she has yet to reach a decision. Supervisor Susan K. Lacey could not be reached for comment.
The supervisors, the chief administrative officer and six other elected officials will be asked to decide within the next week whether they want to accept the lump-sum payment.
The county's district attorney, the retiring sheriff, the treasurer-tax collector, the assessor, the retiring auditor-controller and the clerk-recorder also must make the decision. Each is in line to receive between $16,000 and $23,000 for the vacation pay on Jan. 7, the first payday of the year.
The money will be issued at a time when their salaries will be boosted by up to $24,000 annually under the revised salary schedule adopted by the supervisors Dec. 15. The supervisors' pay will be increased by $14,300--to $64,543--beginning Feb. 21.
Chief Administrative Officer Richard Wittenberg would receive $25,397 in vacation pay, according to figures released by the county on Tuesday.
Most of the leaders are also set on Jan. 7 to be paid between $2,000 and $4,000 each for about six months' longevity pay, county officials said.
Under the measure passed Tuesday, the leaders will also be allowed to refuse payment for the longevity pay, as well as education benefits and several other small perks that are distributed to the officials with each paycheck.
Treasurer-Tax Collector Hal Pittman said he has not yet decided whether he will accept the money.
"I haven't really thought about it," said Pittman, who would receive $19,438 in vacation and longevity pay. "It's a personal decision. It should be made on an individual basis without pressure."
County Assessor R. J. (Jerry) Sanford, who is in line for $21,425 for the two benefits, said he plans to accept the cash.
"I've earned it," Sanford said. "It was the terms of when I was elected two years ago. I've been in public service for 35 years, and I have never been ashamed of any paycheck."