Wrong Time for Board Raises
Orange County supervisors undercut their justification for giving a raise to themselves and others in county leadership by the stealthy manner in which they acted.
As elected officials in a county not long out of bankruptcy, the supervisors needed to clearly explain why they deserve an increase from $82,500 to $92,206 in annual pay. Instead of announcing their intentions loudly and clearly and scheduling a night meeting that more residents could attend, the supervisors just whispered into the ether that they’d be taking up the issue last Tuesday. Fortunately, the 3-2 vote is provisional; there is time for the supervisors to do the right thing and reverse themselves.
Yes, the board has not had a raise since 1990--though the last one capped a whirlwind five years in which the supervisors’ yearly salaries rose from $45,612 to $82,500. It’s also true that Orange County is the state’s third most populous county and needs good people to solve problems and plan for the future.
But let’s remember that the county filed for bankruptcy less than four years ago. Hundreds of county workers were fired. The budgets for many county programs were slashed and will be minimal for years.
A pay raise now signals that it’s back to business as usual, to the days when supervisors spent first and figured out how to find the money later. That’s the wrong direction.
The county’s portion of the recent settlement with Merrill Lynch over the brokerage’s role in the bankruptcy will come to nearly $200 million. Some of that should go to county workers who were able to keep their jobs but had to forgo pay increases. Much of the settlement money should go to a new courthouse, jail expansion, improvements at the Orangewood home for neglected and abused children and other elements of infrastructure needed to keep pace with the county’s growth.
Only then should the supervisors even consider voting themselves pay raises. Supervisors Todd Spitzer and Jim Silva rightly voted against the pay increases. Their three colleagues should do the same when the issue comes up again. The supervisors have not made a case for this raise.