Highest-paid SLO County government employees

238 county government workers take home salaries of more than six figures, led by sheriff’s and probation departments, District Attorney’s Office

bcuddy@thetribunenews.comJune 12, 2011 

  • Editor’s note

    Today’s story looks at San Luis Obispo County’s employees who earned more than $100,000 last year. It’s one in a continuing series that The Tribune is undertaking to show residents how much we pay our public workforce — and why.

    We obtained the information for this story by filing a public records request with the county. We named the top 21 earners plus five more department heads. All but one held management positions.

    We did not name the other individuals on the list of 238 because their pay is determined by the position they hold. Their names might be disclosed in future stories as we deem it relevant.

    — Executive Editor Sandra Duerr

Nearly one-tenth of the county government’s workforce was paid more than $100,000 in 2010, and more than half of them work in public safety — the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the Probation Department.

Of the county’s 2,407 employees, 238 earned six figures for the calendar year 2010. The dollar totals are a compilation of base salary and overtime, as well as bilingual pay and other differentials that went to some employees, according to documents released to The Tribune under a California Public Records Act request.

Tribune reporters filed public information requests to obtain salary data for the top 50 highest-paid employees in each city as part of the newspaper’s ongoing effort to review public employee compensation in San Luis Obispo County.

The Tribune chose to look as well at county salaries and, because the county is one of the area’s largest employers, focused on how many employees received $100,000 or more.

Other forms of compensation are also included, such as cellphone, vehicle and uniform allowances for work use.

Due to privacy concerns, the data don’t include employee-specific numbers on benefits paid — including contributions to health, vision, dental, life insurance or long-term disability plans.

The biggest wage earner in county government last year was former Sheriff-Coroner Pat Hedges, with a base salary of $182,104 and other income that brought his total to $211,392. He decided not to run for re-election last year.

County Administrative Officer Jim Grant was close, with a total of $211,107. They were the only two whose total take-home pay topped $200,000. The third-highest compensated employee was District Attorney Gerald Shea, with $197,535.

In addition to his salary and other pay, Hedges received $27,890 in the form of a “nonretirement pickup,” which is what the county would have paid into his pension had he not opted out of the pension system.

Elected officials can opt out of the county’s retirement system within 30 days after being elected, Deputy County Counsel Rita Neal explained.

(Hedges actually began drawing his retirement pension in 2007 from his years as a nonelected member of the Sheriff’s Department. He was hired in the department in the 1970s and rose to the rank of lieutenant. In 1998, he was elected sheriff.)

Sheriff Ian Parkinson, who replaced Hedges in January, receives a base salary of $182,104.

Also, the sheriff has a county-owned vehicle assigned to him that is emergency equipped, “so that he is available to respond to emergencies as needed 24 hours a day,” according to sheriff’s public information officer Rob Bryn.

Other highlights from the $100,000 list:

• One-third of those on the list work in the Sheriff’s Department.

• All elected officials, except for the Board of Supervisors, earned upwards of $140,000. County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald, the only woman elected to countywide office, was at the bottom of the elected officials list, placing 28th, with $141,057. Besides Hedges and Shea, Tax-Collector-Treasurer Frank Freitas, Assessor Tom Bordonaro and Auditor Gere Sibbach were in the top 15, with compensation higher than $156,000. By comparison, county supervisors earned $82,014.

• In addition to Grant, the top-earning department heads were Public Health Administrator Penny Borenstein, County Counsel Warren Jensen, Public Works Director Paavo Ogren, General Services Director Janette Pell and Social Services Director Lee Collins, all of whom were among the top 12.

• Department heads with the lowest pay were Human Resources Director Tami Douglas-Schatz, Agriculture Commissioner Bob Lilley (who has since retired), Library Director Brian Reynolds and Chief Probation Officer Jim Salio.

• Twenty-seven of the higher earners were deputy district attorneys and nine were deputy county counsels.

• Twelve district attorney investigators were on the list.

• Of the Sheriff’s Department employees earning more than $100,000, six were commanders, three were chief deputies, 24 were senior deputies, 15 were sergeants and 21 were deputy sheriffs.

Overtime costs

Close to 60 sergeants, deputies and correctional officers on the list racked up overtime. Five of them topped $22,000 in overtime, led by Correctional Deputy Aaron Spiller at $28,030 and Senior Deputy Steven Archibald at $26,855.

In response to a question from The Tribune about Sheriff’s Department overtime, Parkinson said it would be more expensive to taxpayers if they were to hire more deputies rather than pay overtime.

“We have reached that ‘tipping point’ as a result of the loss of positions (9 deputies, 6 correctional deputies, 3 sergeants and 1 commander),” Parkinson wrote in his emailed response.

“Most of the time we are working at minimum staffing levels. That means that when somebody calls in sick or has to take time off, we must cover with overtime. As a result, our overtime is up,” he wrote.

According to Bryn, overtime costs from July l, 2010, to May 31, 2011, rose 45 percent over the same period a year earlier.

For fiscal year 2009-10, the cost was $1.27 million to cover 18,393 hours. The cost so far this fiscal year is $1.84 million to cover 28,462 hours, he wrote.

The numbers include all overtime for the Sheriff’s Department, including patrol and the jail. Since August 2009, the department has eliminated 25 staff positions, creating the need to fill shifts with overtime, Bryn noted.

Other highlights

• All elected officials and appointed department heads receive an auto allowance of $450 per month as part of their benefit package. It is not negotiated. Elected officials have the option of choosing mileage reimbursement instead of taking the auto allowance. All elected officials besides the sheriff have accepted the auto allowance, the county said.

• A hodgepodge of county employees has a cellphone allowance or stipend. Although the formula for deciding who gets the funds is complicated, generally workers get phones for emergency work or to support job safety.

• Sheriff’s deputies receive an allowance of $540 a year for safety shoes. Employees who are required to wear a uniform are given $45 per month for an allowance, according to Bryn.

The full list: Job titles and compensation

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