The February 18 Inyo Board of Supervisors meeting featured a review of elected officials’ and appointed department heads’ base salaries, sans cost of living, longevity, and other pay increases.
The idea was to review positions, not the people in the position.
The Board adopted a new, elected officials salary adjustment policy just two weeks ago.
You might wonder if, on reflection, it was such a good idea, especially because of an “escape clause” allowing elected department heads to request a raise anytime they see fit.
These “salary increase requests” are on top of the recent 10 percent COLA increase given all county employees recently, including elected and appointed officials.
Comments regarding the meeting from several elected and appointed officials (most of whom preferred to remain off the record) ranged from “awkward” and “painful” to “outrageous” and “over-inflated.” In short, it was not pretty.
It was also described by those on the Board of Supervisors as “difficult, awkward, but necessary.” The County Supervisors said they are striving for fairness and to control future costs.
Using a 15-county survey of “comparable salaries,” which the Board used as a baseline for the discussions, it was clear that for the most part, Inyo County elected and appointed officials are fairly well paid. Missing from the survey was population numbers for the counties listed. Several have a population of two to three times as much as Inyo County, while several others were less than half that of Inyo County.
Interestingly, Inyo and Mono County officials’ salaries for similar positions appear to be roughly the same.
Inyo County has the largest number of elected official of any county in the state. It is not clear why that is, unless you accept the premise that one County Supervisor provided when asked: “It’s what the voters wanted.”
Four elected officials asked for raises: Assessor Tom Lanshaw, Treasurer-Tax Collector Alisha McMurtrie, Auditor Amy Shepherd, and Public Administrator Patricia Barton.
The Board turned all of them down, but granted one increase to Kammi Foote, who had not requested a change in her base salary “out of respect for the budget situation.” Foote’s salary was increased from $7,307 a month to $7,976 a month, a 9% increase to bring her in line with the 15-county survey average.
The Treasurer-Tax collector has an authorized staff of four. When Alisha McMurtrie requested an increase of 25% from $7,807 a month to $9,583 a month, it did not appear to sit well with the Supervisors. Her rationale was that she has not had a raise in 14 years and claimed that using the 15-county salary survey the Supervisors were using was like “comparing apples to oranges.”
She also cited salary compression, which is when the pay of one or more employees is very close to the pay of more experienced employees (notably in this case, her elected position) in the same job.
Another argument she floated was that her salary should be based on the ranking where her job fits in with the amount of pay in other counties for all the other elected and appointed officials.
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius pointed out that “we are above the 15 other counties” for Tax Collector salary, while Third District Supervisor Rick Pucci noted that the average salary was $7,684.Your salary is above average. -Linda Arcularius, First District Supervisor
McMurtrie, in an interview over the phone after Tuesday’s meeting, said that she would be returning for a second bite at the apple allowed under the salary adjustment policy.
If the Supervisors were unimpressed with McMurtrie’s 25% bid for a raise, they certainly weren’t going to be impressed when Public Administrator Patricia Barton asked for a whopping 50% raise from $64,252 to $94,000 a year.
Again, Arcularius noted, “Your salary is above average.” Two Supervisors, Griffiths and Pucci, asked Barton if she could provide the Board with a workshop to clarify just what her department does and then perhaps revisit the salary request.
County Assessor Tom Lanshaw’s and Auditor Amy Shepherd’s requests for an increase in their base salary were also denied by the Board.
Elected officials that did not request an increase in their base salary were Sheriff Bill Lutze, District Attorney Tom Hardy, Clerk-Recorder Kammi Foote, and Coroner Leon Brune.
One local resident who had viewed the meeting on cable television, but did not wish to be identified, might well have summed up what the general public might be thinking about County salary increases and other actions by the Board of Supervisors that seem to be compounding an already serious structural deficit:
“I just wish someone had decided to run against the elected officials that are asking for these raises,” they said. “Perhaps then they would not be so ‘clueless’ about doing so at a time when the County is already hurting financially.”