By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
Despite some intense scrutiny by many of their employees, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors approved pay raises yesterday for all elected county officials, including themselves.
Many county employees are angry about the raises, noting that the county's recent budget crisis and hiring freeze has increased their workload. They also say employees should be paid back for the loss of hours and pay they suffered during the budget crisis before anyone else gets a raise.
"There are still a lot of hard feelings about the 5 percent cut and the threat of taking 12 percent. And all we've been given back is more work to do, because many people are quitting to take better jobs," said Karen Ratnour, vice president of the Del Norte County Employees Association.
The board took two separate actions to approve the new pay scales for officials.
One action was to approve a new pay scale for elected department heads, but a separate action and an ordinance were required to change the pay of the county Board of Supervisors members.
Two of the supervisors voted differently on the second action than they did on the first.
Supervisor Clyde Eller, who is leaving office in January after losing the primary election, said it was unfair to give raises to all of the elected officials while general employees had to suffer the 5 percent hour and wage cuts during the budget crisis.
So, Eller voted no to the new pay scale for elected department heads. His was the only no vote.
"How many social workers and other licensed workers have we seen go to other counties for better pay? Eller asked.
However, Eller turned about-face when it came to voting for pay raises for supervisors.
"The Board of Supervisors make less than half of any other elected official and I think that's ludicrous," Eller said before voting yes on that item.
Supervisor Martha McClure also delivered different votes on each item.
Visibly angry that employees and other members of the public were questioning the appropriateness of the new pay scales, McClure voted yes to raises for elected department heads but voted no to raises for the board.
"I'm voting no to show that I'm not trying to line anyone's pockets and to show you my respect and solidarity; but at the same time, I say ¬Ďshame on you' for speaking against increases, for those you work beside, for their longevity," McClure said.
Supervisor Jack Reese did not attend yesterday's meeting.
The new pay scales for elected officials were brought into consideration this year because they are the only employees of the county not eligible for raises corresponding to their years of service, according to the county's chief administrator, Jeannine Galatioto.
"All other county employees receive incremental 5 percent increases, either based on satisfactory performance or longevity, totaling a 35 percent increase over 20 years," Galatioto said.
The new pay scale that was passed yesterday will give all elected officials a 10 percent raise each time they are re-elected to office.
The immediate effect of the board's action yesterday will be jumps in salary for each elected department head who has been in office more than one term.
In total, there are 11 elected officials in the county. Five of them are board members who will not get raises until January, when four of the five board members will get a raise.
Of the remaining six elected officials, three will get a raise because they have served more than two terms.
Though it has been said by county administrators that the supervisors and other elected officials do not experience raises as the other employees have, the final budget books of the past six years show their pay has increased more than once.
"If anything, the salary schedules for all elected department heads show that since 1998-1999 they have steadily received increases ranging from 5.5 percent to 35 percent. For example, the auditor-controller received biweekly $1,763.08 in 1997-1998. The current biweekly salary to date is $2,291.34," said Norma Williams, the president of the employee union to the board before their decision.
The raises will be funded partly by monies from the county's general fund and partly by the discretionary trust funds saved in an account by each department head.
Discretionary trust fund monies are gathered in each department by charging the public for some of the specific services that department provides.
For instance, each time the county assessor's office sells a parcel map, the money from that map goes into the assessor's trust fund.
About $12,000 will come out of the general fund for the elected officials' raises for fiscal year 2002-2003 and $36,200 will come from department trust funds to pay the remaining cost.
Galatioto pointed out that it will cost $298,000 to pay the salary increases for all of the other employees for 2002-2003.
Supervisor Eller questioned the legality of using trust-fund dollars for the raises of elected officials. And though county counsel Bob Black opined that it is not illegal to use those funds for raises, Eller disagreed.
Though the first reading of the ordinance granting the supervisors a new pay scale was approved, it must pass a second reading which is expected Nov. 5. If passed a second time, the new scale will take effect 60 days later to give those in opposition time to appeal the decision.