A divided Kern County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to raise its pay and that of other managers by 6 percent over three years, but also required all employees to contribute to their own health care and retirement plans.
The vote was 3-2, with Supervisors Mike Maggard and Karen Goh voting against the change affecting 319 county managers, mid-managers and confidential employees.
The change, factoring in both the money going out with raises and that coming in from employees, is expected to cost the county $1.3 million annually.
Goh said she could not accept the fact that raising management pay triggers a raise for the Board of Supervisors.
"I cannot support a raise for myself," she said.
Maggard voted no because long-term department heads pay only one-third of their share of retirement costs under the plan. Department heads should, he argued, lead by example and contribute 100 percent of their employee share of retirement costs.
But the other three supervisors supported the recommendation of County Administrative Officer John Nilon, aligning management pay with the contract ratified with Kern County's largest union, the Service Employees International Union.
Under the deal, managers, elected officials and line employees would get an immediate 4 percent raise and, in the second year of the contract, a 2 percent raise.
Those workers who don't already make retirement contributions or pay health care premiums would pay their full premium amount after the second year and ramp up to paying one-third of their retirement contribution rate by the end of the third year of the contract.
That contribution rate is individual to each employee and is based on a number of factors including the date they joined the county, their job and how long they are expected to live.
Kern County unions raised concerns about the proposal.
Melissa Allen of the Kern County Prosecutors' Association argued that it isn't fair for her members -- who agreed to pay 100 percent of their retirement costs -- to do that if management is not required to.
She called for the county to roll back her members' contribution rates to match what was approved for managers.
Supervisors indicated some support for the idea.
"The prosecutors are paying the price for settling early and I personally think that is a terrible message to send," Watson said.
But ultimately, the board did not vote to move toward that concession to prosecutors.
Allen and other union leaders noted that the arguments Nilon used to justify the change in compensation for himself, other managers and the county's elected leaders sounded familiar to them.
"We are a little surprised to see the justification for the raises rests on the notions of retention of 'highly qualified, desireable employees' and meeting the competitive salary scales of comparable, surrounding agencies. These points were universally rejected by county officials when raised by us at the bargaining table earlier this year," Alex Bernard, general manager of the Kern Law Enforcement Association, wrote in a statement released to The Californian.
The union represents Kern County sheriff's deputies and District Attorney's office investigators.
Allen said it this way:
"This is the argument that we and other employee groups have made to you for the last two years, and you rejected," she said. "What has changed to make that a valid argument now?"
But county managers told supervisors that they work hard and deserve to see their pay increase in similar proportion to the people they manage.
Supervisors expressed unqualified support for the work managers do and that they deserved an increase.
But they agreed to look, once again, at the way in which supervisors are compensated.
Currently, supervisors bring in about $119,000 in basic salary, car allowance and bonus pay. In January, when the raises for supervisors and other elected department heads take effect, that amount would go up to around $123,000.
They asked staff to come back with a report on the impact of basing the Board of Supervisors' pay on the average increases approved for all county employees rather than increases in management pay.