January 8th, 2011, 2:36 pm · posted by Kimberly Edds, Staff Writer

Three days before Gov. Jerry Brown unveils what he promises to be a “painful” state budget that asks all Californians to tighten their belts even tighter, most of the county of Orange’s elected officials and 100 executives received the largest paychecks they’ve received in 18 months.

That’s because the 5 percent reduction the Board of Supervisors voted to cut from their own salaries along with the salaries of the county’s seven other elected officials and county executives last year was quietly allowed to expire, The Watchdog has learned.

The first paychecks of 2011 arrived Friday – and included the extra 5 percent for those who had taken the cut, county Chief Executive Officer spokesman Howard Sutter confirmed.

California is facing a deficit of up to $28 billion, and Brown will unveil his budget proposal Monday –- an approach that is expected to include slashing spending along with restructuring how government services are delivered.

“California is facing a huge deficit and it is necessary to find savings throughout all of government,” Brown said in a written statement. “We all have to make cuts and I’m starting with my own office.”

County supervisors last month signed off on a strict hiring freeze, approved slashing 5 percent from the budgets of its general fund departments next year and are trying to come up with $100 million a year in cuts from its salaries and benefit costs as the county struggles to navigate tough economic times.

Best-case scenario, the county is facing a $43 million shortfall, according to the county’s 2010 Strategic Financial Plan. Worst-case, the county is facing an $88.6 million shortfall.

“Now is the time when the county’s highest paid employees quietly increase their pay?,” said Jennifer Muir, communications director for the Orange County Employees Association. “This is not exactly a demonstration of leadership.”

The Board of Supervisors voted in June 2009 to reduce salaries of elected and county executives by 5 percent for a year amid the county’s budget problems. Supervisors voted in June to extend the cut for another six months.

Elected officials can choose to voluntarily reduce their pay, Sutter said.

Three of the county’s 12 elected officials- Treasurer-Tax Collector Chriss Street, Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom and Assessor Webster Guillory –- originally agreed to the cut, but eventually refused to donate 5 percent of their $173,100 salaries back to the county, Sutter said.

All other county elected officials and executive managers are participating, county spokeswoman Brooke DeBaca said.

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