‘Comparable counties’ system leads to rare pay drop for county position

A funny thing happened at the county government center the other day: County leaders compared what one of their employees was being paid to what his counter-parts doing the same job in other counties were making and decided that they were paying too much.

The result: an uncharacteristic move downward in a taxpayer-funded job, based on the so-called “comparable counties” dynamic.

Critics have long complained that under “comparable counties,” San Luis Obispo County administrators and union negotiators have contrasted local employees to those in counties such as Napa, Sonoma and Monterey, and decided employees here were being short-changed.

The result, critics say, has been an ever-upward spiral of wages and benefits.

It didn’t happen that way this time when Human Resources Director Tami Douglas-Schatz learned that Veterans Services Officer Mike Piepenburg is retiring April 16.

Before she set about to replace Piepenburg, she surveyed people who do essentially the same job in Marin, Monterey, Napa, Santa Barbara, Placer and Santa Cruz counties.

The average salary for those counties is $7,041 a month. The salary here is $9,237.

So, Douglas-Schatz recommended that the Board of Supervisors pay the next Veterans Service Officer $6,982 a month.

Supervisors complied Tuesday.

“It isn’t very common,” for salaries to go down, said Douglas-Schatz, who added that the recommendation was no knock personally or professionally on Piepenburg himself, who, she said, has done a good job.

The move, she said, will save the county $27,000 annually.