Board rejects proposed change to automatic salary adjustments

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Diane Sieker photo

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal Tuesday, Feb. 25, to rescind automated pay hikes for each member, with opponents arguing the current system is viable and not in need of modification.

“I don’t know what the magic answer is, but my staff’s research found little credence to change the system when it’s working for ourselves and other counties,” Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. “This has worked for us and surrounding counties for a while.”

Supervisor Kevin Jeffries introduced the “Salary Adjustment Accountability and Transparency” measure, saying there was a need to de-couple supervisors’ automatic salary increases from the state’s income adjustments for judges, and instead, justify salaries in open session.

Supervisors’ salaries are determined using a formula established by a Blue Ribbon Salary Review Committee in 1998. Under the formula, each board member earns base compensation that’s 80% of the total paid to a Superior Court judge.

Supervisors have the discretion to decline the automated hikes, which are often based on cost of living data. Jeffries has refused all salary adjustments since he took office, representing the 1st District, in 2013.

“It’s inappropriate to have automatic pay raises that we don’t discuss in public,” Jeffries said. “With our employees, we bring the matter before the public and have a debate, then there’s a vote. With the board, it’s kept quiet and off the radar. It shouldn’t be that way. Even if it’s tied to judges when salaries go up, it should still come to the board as it does with all employees.”

Jeffries’ annual salary is $143,031, while the balance of the board, individually, receives roughly $153,000 annually.

“This is a rather ticklish subject,” Supervisor Chuck Washington said. “I feel uncomfortable telling colleagues what they should do. If we are determining our own salaries, it would appear to be a conflict of interest, voting on our own salaries. There is consistency throughout the state with counties on this issue.”

According to Spiegel’s research, the boards of supervisors in neighboring San Bernardino and San Diego counties have higher automated pay hikes due to formulas that are aligned with Riverside County’s but more generous.

“I put a lot of time in my job and try my best,” Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said. “I’m for keeping it close to what other counties are doing. If we start setting our own salaries, it’s open to abuse.”

Board Chairman Manuel Perez said he believed board members’ salaries were a “reflection on the county,” and he saw no reason for change.

“When times are tough, as they have been in the past, I think there’s an opportunity where supervisors themselves can make decisions and not take a pay increase,” Perez said.

Jeffries’ motion to vote on the proposal was not seconded, and it died without a formal tally of yeas and nays.