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The Daily Journal

 

August 1, 2007

 

By Michelle Durand

 

 

County service a full-time job - literally

 

 

Many of the county’s elected public servants say they love their jobs but the salaries and benefits that come with the positions are far from the paltry compensation stereotypically associated with working for the people.


At first blush, the county’s 11 elected government officials — excluding superior court judges — appear to be compensated significantly more than their counterparts on the city and school district levels. The difference, however, is that while councilmembers often hold full-time jobs in addition to their city positions, on the county level the position is the job.


“Those of us in the county have a 24-hour job. It’s not just a meeting twice a month,” said Supervisor Jerry Hill.


In San Mateo County, voters elect five supervisors, the sheriff, the district attorney, the tax collector/treasurer, the assessor/county clerk/recorder, the controller and the coroner.


Across the board, the officials receive a salary, health, dental and vision insurance, $50,000 in life insurance and an additional $100,000 in accidental death and disability benefits, up to $2,400 in disability, transportation allowance or a county car and retirement benefits.


Many elected officials also receive stipends and per diems for associated positions on other commissions and boards but downplay their overall compensation as anything different than what they would receive in the private sector.


“I realize I make a lot of money yet at the same time I know how hard I work,” said Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Warren Slocum.


Slocum earns $6,235.20 bi-weekly, or $77.94 per hour, according to January 2007 records.


Slocum’s salary is second only to District Attorney Jim Fox who earns $9,573.60 bi-weekly, or $119.67 per hour, as of May 7, 2007.


Controller Tom Huening takes home $5,945.60, or $74.32 per hour, and Tax Collector-Treasurer Lee Buffington nets $5,333.60 bi-weekly, or $66.67 hourly.


Sheriff Greg Munks earns $7,252.80, or $90.66 hourly, and Coroner Robert Foucrault earns $4,658.40 bi-weekly, or $58.23 hourly.


Supervisors Hill and Rich Gordon earn $3,625.60 bi-weekly, or $45.32 per hour. Supervisors Rose Jacobs Gibson, Mark Church and Adrienne Tissier earn $3,303.30 bi-weekly or $41.29.


The disparity in supervisor salaries is because of the staggered salary hike approved by themselves in 2005. The raise first changed the seats of districts two and three with districts one, four and five seeing increases in January 2009.


Plans for supervisor raises are typically met with resistance from residents but county voters haven’t successfully changed the process. In 2004, a measure establishing a salary-setting commission failed and four years prior voters denied a different measure that would set supervisor salaries based on the pay of Superior Court judges.


In December, elected official salaries for the other positions were adjusted based on a 3 percent increase. The previous March, the supervisors adopted a new process requiring the county manager to determine the elected heads’ salaries each November based on the salaries of non-elected department heads.


In addition to the other benefits, each supervisor can staff his or her office with any combination up to three of chief legislative aides and legislative aides. The supervisors also receive a bi-weekly transportation allowance of $385.


Other elected heads are reimbursed up to $343.20, dependent upon mileage, and the district attorney gets up to $363 bi-weekly for transportation.


The reimbursement isn’t always enough to cover the driving required by the job, Buffington said.


“I drive all over the county so the reimbursement doesn’t always cut it. We travel a lot up in the north county so three or four trips will chew it up and we don’t get any additional mileage for trips to Santa Clara or Alameda,” Buffington said.


The high price of fuel currently doesn’t help although Buffington said on a recent trip to Santa Barbara “he almost broke even.”


Foucrault uses a county car rather than receive reimbursement but is quick to point out it is a standard Crown Victoria without any bells and whistles.


“I shouldn’t be driving anything better or worse than anyone else,” Foucrault said.


Cell phone usage for county business is also reimbursable although Buffington said it averages about $12 out of a $80 or $90 monthly bill.


On the flip side, he said, “the retirement is great.”


County employees who retire after March 13, 2005 receive the 2 percent at 55.5 enhancement and receive health, dental and vision insurance at rate of one month’s premium for every two months of service.


While elected officials receive a flat salary for their county time, they can receive stipends for the various boards, commissions and appointments that come their way as a result of their position.


The majority of the local committees do not carry any reimbursement while state appointments tend to bring travel allowances.


Hill receives a $100 stipend for attending meetings of the Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board and the San Mateo County Transit District Board.

The same stipend amount comes for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Local Agency Formation Commission. Hill is an alternate for the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, receiving $100 when he is required to attend.


The state appointment to the California Air Resources Board pays for travel expenses to Sacramento or other locales around the state.


Gordon sits on four boards or commissions with $100 per diem each: BCDC, LafCo, Health Plan San Mateo and the Transportation Authority.


Jacobs Gibson receives $150 for the Association of Bay Area Governments and as a LafCo alternate, $100 when her attendance is required.


Church gets $100 for travel from the State Seismic Safety Commission, SamTrans and the Transit Authority.


Tissier receives $100 for attending the monthly Health Plan of San Mateo meeting plus $100 for the monthly finance committee meeting. She also receives $100 per monthly Metropolitan Transportation Commission meeting and potentially $100 for each of six monthly committee meetings. The monthly Bay Area Toll Authority meetings in Oakland bring $100 each. MTC caps its monthly stipends at $700 but also compensates for mileage and transit costs.


Tissier gets $100 for SamTrans board meetings and $100 per committee meetings. Those stipends are capped at $400.


Tissier, like many other public officials, conducts a significant amount of public business with personal resources, said Legislative Aide Bill Chiang.


The bottom line, at least for Slocum, is the level of satisfaction that comes with the job whether it’s elected or not.


“Others make more and some make less. I’m just thankful I actually enjoy what I do,” he said.


Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.