Not many jobs allow you to give yourself a raise, but Humboldt County Supervisor is one such gig.
At their last meeting of 2018, the supes introduced an ordinance that, if adopted at next Tuesday’s meeting, will bump their annual base salary up to $95,121 for this year and $97,023 per year starting in January 2020.
That raise would technically represent a four percent increase over the current supervisor salary of $87,427 per year, which has been in place since Jan. 1, 2017. (All figures rounded to the nearest dollar.) But if you do the math you’ll see it’s actually more like an 11 percent raise.
Here’s why: An audit of the county’s Human Resources practices found that they’d been inappropriately basing the supervisors’ salaries on a 37.5-hour work week when, in reality, their weekly schedule calls for 40 hours per week.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said that he, for one, works a whole lot more than that.
“I think if you do the job, it doesn’t pay that well — you know what I’m saying? — if you do it right,” Bohn told the Outpost. Noting that it takes two-and-a-half hours to drive from one end of his district to the other, Bohn said he often works Saturdays, Sundays and nights and personally handles every single phone call he gets on the job.
“It’s pretty well recorded they get their money’s worth out of me,” he said, adding that he may be the only supervisor who took a pay cut after being elected. (He worked as a raw materials locator for FoxFarm, a soil and fertilizer company, prior to his election in 2012.)
The salary bumps would cost the county’s general fund an extra $57,980 for the 2019-20 fiscal year, according to a staff report, though Bohn told the Outpost that he plans to turn the raise down.
“Just so I don’t have to listen to your guys’ bullshit for taking it,” he cracked. On a more serious note, Bohn pointed out that most county employees were also given a four percent raise via updated contracts with the various labor unions.
So, how do the proposed new salaries compare to other county supervisors’ compensation in California? Pretty well, though the salaries vary pretty widely.
The highest paid county supervisors in the state, according to data from the State Controller’s website, are those in Los Angeles County — perhaps unsurprising considering the population there tops 10 million. They brought in more than $240,000 apiece in 2017 (the most recent data available).
Supervisors in our closest neighboring counties, meanwhile, make less than Humboldt’s supes, though they also have fewer residents and smaller staffs. Supervisors in Trinity County (pop. 12,709), for example, made about $24,000 apiece in 2017. Those in Del Norte County (pop. 27,470) made $36,648. Mendocino County (pop. 88,018) supervisors gave themselves a big raise in 2017, from $61,200 to $85,500 per year.
But Humboldt supervisors are also set to make more than those in more populous counties, including Shasta (pop.: 179,921/salary: $53,508); Kings (pop.: 150,101/salary: $76,092); Butte (pop.: 229,294/salary: $65,424); and San Luis Obispo (pop.: 283,405/salary: $91,830).
The county with the population nearest to Humboldt’s 136,754 is Napa County, with 140,973, and their supervisors earned a comparable salary in 2017: about $95,000 apiece. (Find more salary data here.)
Of the five supervisors asked for comment on this matter (including Fifth District Supervisor-elect Steve Madrone), only Bohn and Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson responded, the latter with a dry, bureaucratic statement sent via email:
The Board of Supervisors’ salary is not automatically adjusted, for instance, to keep up with rising costs (CPI). It is set by ordinance and each time the Board’s salary is changed the ordinance needs to be updated.
After lengthy negotiations, in the Summer of 2018 the Board approved substantially similar pay adjustments for the county’s bargaining units. This proposed adjustment tries to be in parity with those agreements.
According to the ordinance, the supervisors also get medical, dental, vision and life insurance, as well as workers’ compensation and retirement savings via Social Security and the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS). Oh, and up to $1,000 per year to purchase “personal exercise equipment,” pay gym dues, hire a personal trainer or enlist in a wellness program.
Bohn said the proposed raise wouldn’t make up for his increased health insurance premiums, his portion of which costs him close to $600 per month, he said.
In defense of supervisors’ salaries, Bohn said the pay needs to be high enough to attract good, quality candidates — “me excluded,” he added with typical self-deprecation. He also noted that supervisors are the lowest-paid elected officials in the county.
In 2017, District Attorney Maggie Fleming made $192,501. Sheriff Billy Honsal, who was undersheriff for part of the year, made $169,483. Treasurer-Tax Collector John Bartholomew made $133,891. Martin “Joe” Mellett, the former Auditor-Controller, made $127,037. Assessor Mari Wilson made $126,811. Clerk-Recorder-Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders made $125,893.
There are also several department heads and other county employees who out-earn the supervisors. The highest paid county employee in 2017 was Dr. Jennifer Wilson, a psychiatrist in the Mental Health Branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, who earned $262,948, plus more than $38,000 worth of benefits.
All this salary info comes from Transparent California. Bohn said he dug through that info, too, not long ago. “I think I was 288th top paid person in the county,” he said. (240th, by our count, but his point stands.)
The median household income in Humboldt County is $42,685.
The ordinance approving the supervisors’ pay raise has been placed on the consent calendar for Tuesday’s meeting, which starts at 9 a.m. in supervisors’ chambers at the county courthouse.