San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford.

Published: 23 July 2012 06:40 PM

Faced with a November ballot measure that could reduce their pay by 73 percent, San Bernardino County supervisors are considering putting a competing measure before voters that would keep their compensation in line with neighboring counties.

If the board agrees to go forward with the proposal, it could head off efforts backed by county employee unions to cut $92,000 from supervisors’ yearly pay. The county proposal would give voters two measures to choose from. The one with the largest number of majority votes would take effect.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the supervisors’ proposal, which goes before the board Tuesday, July 24, would change their salaries and benefits.

County spokesman David Wert said the county’s human resources department calculated that it would decrease supervisors’ annual compensation by $17,500 although he could not explain how that figure was arrived at. According to the proposal, their salaries and benefits would be the average of three comparable counties.

Under such a formula, supervisors might see a small decrease in salary but their benefits could go up based on numbers provided in a November 2011 salary study done by the county – the most recent one it has conducted.

Supervisors now make $151,971 annually in salary plus about $67,000 in benefits. Their salaries are set by Measure P, a 2006 initiative that imposed term limits and tied their salaries to the average of Riverside, Orange, San Diego and Los Angeles counties.

The supervisors’ proposed measure takes Los Angeles – which had the highest salaries – out of the equation but includes benefits in the calculation, so it takes into account total compensation. Under current state law, supervisors can determine their own level of benefits.

When calculated under the proposed formula, their current salaries would drop to $146,702.

In January, the supervisors cut their benefits about $121,000 at the time by 39 percent after a compensation study found theirs were the second-highest in the region, second only to Los Angeles.

Under the formula in the proposed measure, the current average of benefits paid by the three comparison counties is $80,048 – about $13,000 higher than the current level.

Supervisor Janice Rutherford, who introduced the benefits cut, said the proposed compensation measure would set a cap that supervisors could not exceed. She said supervisors would still be bound by the ordinance approved in January, so their annual benefits would stay at $67,000.

If approved by voters, the measure would not go into effect until December 2013.

Supervisor Gary Ovitt asked the county counsel’s office to draft the measure in response to union-backed measure that would slash their total compensation by about 73 percent.

Under the union proposal, supervisors’ total compensation would be limited to $60,000 a year. It would also cut their combined staff budget from $6 million to $1.5 million a year.

The supervisors’ measure does not cut their staff budgets.

The unions began organizing behind the measures in January, shortly after supervisors discussed a proposed ballot initiative that would put future pension increases for county employees to a public vote. That measure and another one that would create a tiered system and reduce some benefits go the board next week.

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