Supervisors drop plans for big pay raise

Public outcry at 56-percent hike Influenced their decision Tuesday

The crowd watches from the county board chambers in 2016

San Benito County supervisors changed their minds this week, and voted unanimously against giving themselves a 56-percent pay raise.

The Board of Supervisors last month had given preliminary approval, on a 4-1 vote, to increase their salaries from $48,000 to $75,000, prompting a public outcry. The first pay increase vote had followed board approval of new employment contracts with 3.5-percent raises for county employees. The labor bargaining groups had negotiated with the county for months over wage increases, county health care contributions to help offset increasing costs and continued holiday office closures.

Supervisor Robert Rivas was the sole dissenter at the October vote. He called Tuesday’s vote “democracy at work.”

“I did vote against this proposal last time, but even though I voted against it people still called, pissed off at me for some reason,” Rivas said. “I’ve always felt that this issue does have merit, but at the same time, as many have suggested, our policy needs to be driven by data.”

All of the San Benito County supervisors indicated they’d heard from their constituents within the last two weeks, objecting to the pay hike.

“We heard you and got a clear message,” Board Chairman Jaime De La Cruz said. “While we’re the Board of Supervisors and the buck stops with us, unfortunately on this subject matter when it pertains to salaries, it shouldn’t be at this level. I’d suggest maybe a committee of citizens should come up with the idea and let the recommendation come from them.”

Between the end of October when the potential pay raise was first endorsed and the Nov. 7 meeting, supervisors met with the heads of labor bargaining groups, including the Service Employees International Union Local 521, which represents 270 county employees, not including 50 vacancies that the county has struggled to fill.

“The leaders of our groups came together and were able to work with you over the last couple weeks,” said Suzy Caston, child support specialist and SEIU chapter president. “I really appreciate your open ears. I really appreciate your attention to this matter. I appreciate you listening to our concerns and we really look forward to working with you in the future to address all these issues that we have facing us with employment retention, salaries, compensation studies, et cetera.”

Some San Benito County residents told the supervisors Tuesday that they deserved the raise.

“I want to thank you all for taking the job and doing them, however I believe the compensation should be fair,” resident Robert Gibson said. “The county is growing and there’s a lot of issues coming up. It’s become a full-time position.”

Like all other county employees, the supervisors will still receive a 3.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment that would increase their salaries from $48,194 to $49,645.

“I think we have to take the salaries we’re able to afford and that would be what we gave everyone else in the county,” Supervisor Anthony Botelho said.

Supervisor Jerry Muenzer was in agreement.

“A number had to be thrown out and then we needed to hear from the community, and we did,” Muenzer said. “That number seems to be wrong.”

The supervisor salary of $48,194 is less than 25 percent of the salary of a superior court judge, which county staff had claimed was a good baseline, on which to determine supervisors’ pay.

The current superior court judge salary in California is $200,042.

Supervisor Mark Medina thanked the public for their input and explained how feedback and input are the basis of his decisions.

“Once again, my phone is always on, email is always available and the feedback is what I need from everyone,” Medina said.

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