Tuolumne County supervisors added some positions and approved raises for elected officials other than themselves on Tuesday, despite being slightly over budget with less than four months left in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
The board voted 4-1 to approve mid-year budget adjustments that moved about $32,000 from the county’s contingency fund, which is for unexpected costs throughout the year, to cover the spending from the General Fund that was higher than planned for this point.
For perspective, the approved General Fund budget for the current fiscal year was nearly $80 million and overall spending was more than $245 million.
The General Fund is where the money comes from to pay for most core services provided by the county — including law enforcement, firefighting, recreation activities, land use planning and permitting — as well as most salaries and benefits for employees.
Contingency funds were reduced to less than $700,000 due to being slightly over budget and taking an additional $53,600 from the account to hire an interim economic development director for three months, which the board also approved separately on Tuesday.
Part of the reason for being slightly over budget was due to personnel changes in 10 county departments that included adding the equivalent of one nearly full-time and four full-time positions, deleting some vacant positions, and giving some people new titles and increasing their salary.
The net additional cost to the county through the end of the fiscal year on June 30 as a result of the changes will be about $60,000 because there are only a few months left, but County Administrator Tracie Riggs said the increase for the 2019-20 fiscal year will be about $350,000 to $400,000.
District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer, who serves as board chairman, asked County Administrator Tracie Riggs whether she and Auditor-Controller Debi Bautista were comfortable making the personnel changes despite not yet having a forecast for what revenues and expenses will be in the next fiscal year.
“I’m not sure comfortable is a necessary word,” Riggs replied. “We feel like we need these changes in order to continue the work flow that’s taking place. Next year will be, as every year has been, a difficult year.”
The additional positions brings the total number to nearly 643, the most since 2016-17 when there were more than 645. The peak before the recession in 2008 was 965 positions, while the post-recession low was 558 in 2012.
Bautista said there will be increased costs next year for employee pensions through the California Public Employee Retirement System that she estimated will take about $700,000 from the General Fund alone, in addition to increases for other benefits and raises that were approved by the board in 2016.
District Attorney Laura Krieg took issue with the personnel changes because she said that she was told to wait until April to discuss any changes in staffing for her office.
Krieg said she doesn’t want to wait because the 2019-20 fiscal year is looking “dismal at best” in terms of the budget. She also said her office is the only district attorney’s office in the state that represents children in child welfare proceedings, which also generates revenue for the county.
“When this sort of thing happens, it creates distrust amongst my staff,” she said. “If my staff sees personnel changes happening in other departments when I told them we were told we can’t have a personnel change … it creates a morale issue and a trust issue.”
Assistant County Administrator Eric Erhardt told the board in response to Krieg’s comments that they don’t necessarily have to wait until April and could consider her personnel requests at any future board meeting.
District 3 Supervisor Anaiah Kirk was the only one on the board to vote against the budget changes midway through the year, citing his concerns about the ongoing costs of the personnel changes and what Krieg said.
Kirk and District 2 Supervisor Ryan Campbell were not part of the process of developing the budget because the final version was approved by the board in September, but they were elected in November and didn’t take their seats until January.
The board later approved raises for elected officials, including Krieg, which were based on a compensation study conducted by a consultant in 2015 that found their salaries were 26 to 39 percent less than the market rate for the positions.
One of the reasons they were under the market rate was due to sacrifices made to help stabilize the county’s budget following the recession.
All positions in the county, including elected officials, received salary adjustments to bring them within 19 percent of the market rate. Part of the reason the board cited for the adjustments was to make the county more competitive in hiring.
The board approved a three-year compensation plan for elected officials in early 2017 that pledged to bring their salaries within 13 or 10 percent of the market rate by July of this year.
As of July 1, Assessor-Recorder Kaenan Whitman’s annual salary will increase from $139,488 to $145,166, Auditor-Controller Debi Bautista’s from $162,811 to $169,439, Treasurer-Tax Collector Justin Birtwhistle’s from $139,488 to $145,166, Sheriff Bill Pooley’s from $149,576 to $155,664, and Krieg’s from $154,890 to $161,195.
All of the raises combined will cost the county an additional $30,377 per year.
The board unanimously approved the raises, but not before Sonora resident Carol Doud called out elected officials who endorsed board candidates during the last election.
Doud said she believed Kirk in particular should have recused himself from the discussion because he took pictures during the campaign with officials who received raises, including Krieg and Pooley, which she felt looked like a bribe and made him seem “tainted.”
“That’s one of the beauties about having two careers is I can’t be bribed, I can’t be bought,” Kirk said in reference to his other full-time job as a supervising correctional counselor at Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown. “It’s a matter of trust. If you don’t trust my opinion, then that’s perfectly fine.”
After the meeting, Krieg said she didn’t believe there was anything wrong about endorsing Kirk because it’s allowed by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, or FPPC, and elected officials do it often at the state, federal and county levels.
Krieg also cited a publication by the League of California Cities that stated elected officials “may give whatever endorsements they choose on a personal level and, according to informal advice from the FPPC, they may include their public official title in such endorsements.”
“I take my endorsements seriously,” she said. “ I don’t endorse often, but when I do endorse someone it’s because I think they’re going to what’s best for our county.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.