Apparently, you see things a little differently when you take a seat on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
For example, an elected supervisor spends some time in a governing role, gets a feel for how difficult and uncomfortable that can sometimes be, and feels compelled to give oneself a bump up in pay.
Consider what an enviable position that is to be in. Not happy with your $100,000-plus a year in salary and perks? Vote yourself a raise. Only in politics, my friend. The rest of us have to earn that raise, and then sweat out a boss’ decision, yea or nay.
In the case of the Board of Supervisors, the raise a majority of members voted themselves is modest, to say the least — 1.4 percent, which amounts to $46.25 more pay every two weeks, or $1,202.50 a year. Even the total amount for all five supervisors isn’t especially daunting in terms of the county’s new $965.6-million budget, less than $10,000.
It’s not the money, it’s the principle.
Among the reasons given for the pay raise are that supervisors haven’t had a salary increase in years, and they don’t make as much as supervisors in similar counties.
The final vote on the modest raise was 4-1, and you can probably guess who dissented.
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam was subjected to a bit of public shaming last March, when the board discussed a possible bump in pay. Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino criticized his North County compatriot for objecting to a raise, but taking it anyway.
Adam was apparently unfazed by the slam, and voted against the raise anyway. His argument in March and again last week focused on the need for the county to address infrastructure and other county government funding issues before coughing up a pay raise for the decision makers.
At first glance, the budget approved by the board appears healthy. There will be full funding of the county’s strategic reserve. The revenue picture for 2015-16 looks promising. Some money is being set aside for county staff to look into alternative energy sources and water supply. All good stuff.
What concerns us is the board’s willingness to allocate funds to the District Attorney’s office to pursue litigation against the company whose pipeline ruptured and spilled crude oil onto Refugio Beach, while at the same time taking more than a half-million dollars out of budgets that affect the Sheriff’s Department, child-support and community services, and other agencies.
And there remain some glaring holes in the county’s long-term fiscal strategy, which continues to virtually ignore many millions of dollars in deferred maintenance of county property, and under-funded pension liabilities that, while in better shape than in recent years, is still drowning in a pool of red ink.
The board majority and top administrators paint a rosy picture of the county’s fiscal situation, but when you peel away a layer or two of this onion, things get dicey. It’s what bureaucratic types do when revenue outpaces expenses.
We get that, as do most taxpayers. And giving supervisors a modest raise doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But it is fundamentally wrong to seemingly ignore some of county government’s larger issues — and deferred maintenance and pension fund imbalances are huge.
We hope board members enjoy their $46.25 extra pay every two weeks. In some ways, they’ve earned it. We also hope they will pay more attention to Supervisor Adam’s concerns about fixing things that are broken.