Board approves $31,000 raise

Madera County’s chief administrative officer was unanimously approved by county supervisors for a $31,000 raise Tuesday, even as most government staff are underpaid compared to surrounding counties.

The board’s vote means on January 1, 2016, Eric Fleming’s pay will jump from an annual $182,715 to $214,332, an increase of more than $31,000 at the board-appointed CAO position he took over in 2010.

Every supervisor said the raise is necessary as Fleming, who helped bring the county out of a $12.3 million deficit he inherited his first year into a current $4 million surplus, is being “headhunted” by Fresno County for a salary higher than $240,000 due to his proficiencies in financial work.

Madera County’s improved fiscal health also led to an A+ credit rating from Standard & Poor’s in July, which it hadn’t received in nearly 30 years.

“This is a business decision to keep our top employee who has earned what he’s being offered,” board chairman David Rogers said. “He brought good budget, sound policy, and good management. That’s the bottom line.”

Some citizens were unhappy with the decision, particularly following a countywide salary study in August showed a majority of government staff are paid less than similar positions from comparable counties - such as correctional officers at nearly 31% behind - while the supervisors earn 8% more.

“A raise of the proposed amount at this time is excessive, completely unfair, and it sends the wrong message to your constituents,” Chowchilla resident Susan White said.

“Let's take care of employees because you guys keep slapping the employees in the face, saying they're not worthy,” added Sharon Sample, a county citizen.

The board said it had to work fast to keep Fleming, and it’s working to implement salary improvements for most other county staff. If Fleming leaves, District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler and others said they’d still have to increase his position’s pay to recruit a new CAO through an expensive process.

According to public service financial database Transparent California, provided by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, 2014 salaries for administrative officers in surrounding counties were in the $200,000 range.

In Fresno County, pay was $209,933, for Kern County it was $211,246, and in Merced, the county’s executive officer received $230,000.

Fleming, after a positive job performance review, would receive another raise on January 1, 2017, according to the resolution approved by the board.