Change of heart

By Brian Wilkinson

We were happy when the Madera County Board of Supervisors put the brakes on giving themselves a 25% pay increase Sept. 13.

Currently, supervisors Tom Wheeler (District 5), Max Rodriguez (4), and David Rogers (2) are paid $79,397 annually, while Rick Farinelli (3) and Brett Frazier (1) are paid $75,616. The salaries for Wheeler, Rodriguez and Rogers are based on a formula that pays them 42% of what the judges are paid, while the formula provides Farinelli and Frazier’s 40% of the judges salary.

The proposal that supervisors were going to vote on Sept. 13 was based on raising the 42% to 52.5% for Wheeler, Rodriguez and Rogers (who have six or more years of service), and from 40% to 50% for Farinelli and Frazier as supervisors with 0-5 years of service.

Supervisors Rogers and Frazier said prior to Sept. 13 they would not support the raise and Chairman Farinelli, although he didn’t specifically say which way he’d vote, did not seem really excited about the idea.

But on Sept. 13, before any comments for or against the pay raise could be voiced by any board member or citizen, Wheeler quickly spoke up to drop the proposal - an idea that was agreed upon by fellow board members.

Wheeler said he thought long and hard about the proposed salary increase, and had heard from several people who said if a 25% pay increase went through, it would most likely jeopardize the one-cent sales tax increase for fire and law enforcement the public will vote on in a March 7 Special Election.

If passed with the necessary 2/3 vote, the increased sales tax would be collected for 20 years, expecting to generate about $8 million annually - with 80% going to the county fire department and 20% to the sheriff’s office.

After the meeting Wheeler said he didn’t think the votes were there for the pay increase, but the main reason he took the pay raise off the table was to make sure it wouldn’t have a negative impact on the sales tax increase, which he said is 10 times more important for everyone in the county compared to a pay raise for the five supervisors.

Wheeler said he didn’t want to push for the raise and possibly jeopardize $160 million over 20 years in public safety funds over a lousy $100,000 (one year of supervisors pay increase if proposal passed).

It was a good move by Wheeler. Frazier called it absolutely the right thing to do and told Wheeler it took courage to do it.

The pay raise was recommended by the county’s Chief Administrative Officer Eric Fleming after a county-wide employee pay study, by Cooperative Personnel Services of Sacramento a year ago, showed most county employees were underpaid compared to surrounding counties.

A year ago, due to the study, the supervisors gave Fleming a $31,000 annual raise to $214,000. Every supervisor said the raise was 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, was being “headhunted” by Fresno County for a salary higher than $240,000 due to his proficiencies in financial work.

About 27 years ago, county supervisors at the time voted themselves a 31% monthly pay increase from $1,662 to $2,176 - an annual increase from about $20,000 to $26,000. It passed on a 3-2 vote, with supervisors Harry Baker and Al Ginsburg voting no. Yes votes came from Jess Lopez, Rick Jensen and Gail Hanhart McIntyre.

We stated before we are not against pay raises - just against 25% pay raises. We are sure to see proposed pay raises in the future, but we hope to never see again a 25% increase proposed - for anyone.