Department heads may be asked to contribute to health and retirement benefits
he Kern County Board of Supervisors, faced with an over $15 million budget shortfall and no easy answers, discussed options at a tense session Tuesday afternoon.
The item on the agenda was a discussion of asking non-union managers and department heads to contribute to their health care and retirement benefits. Supervisor Michael Rubio, who has been outspoken about his desire to have everyone contribute in recent weeks, opened the discussion with an explanation of his stance.
“I’ve never promoted an across-the-board pay cut,” he said. “I want to stress, this is not me requesting that if you’re contributing that you’ll be contributing more.”
Rubio, who added he’s received dozens of calls and letters from constituents and county employees on this issue, explained his belief that “it’s important for leaders within county government to lead by example, but more importantly, if you’re a department head, you should sacrifice first.”
“I’m genuinely concerned that for many in this room, if you’re a county employee, at some point that benefit will not be there,” said Rubio on the benefits. “I make that statement because the rise in costs are so substantial we are struggling to find ways to pay for it.”
The supervisor added that he and his staff pays the full contribution rate for their retirement and health benefits, as well as having volunteered to take a one-day furlough per pay period.
“It would be prudent for us to move in that direction,” said Rubio on asking all employees to contribute to their benefits.
Other supervisors agreed in principle, but were concerned about the timing.
“I concur,” said Supervisor Don Maben. “We’ll all have to eventually pay, but my question is the timing – it’s premature. Once SEIU (the county’s largest employee union) contributes, we all step up. Until then it’s premature.”
Maben did volunteer to begin contributing toward his own health care and retirement effective with the next pay period.
Supervisor Jon McQuiston added he was willing to pay for benefits and retirement, but that such a move “needs to be at the conclusion of whatever negotiations may reveal.”
McQuiston added that he doesn’t support across-the-board pay cuts, as he doesn’t support “a fiscal impact to 8,000-plus employees to offset what may happen to 166 or 94.”
Those numbers were floated around during budget hearings as possible targeted layoff numbers if the gap isn’t closed through labor negotiations. Any remaining gap will be distributed through salary accounts in the county budget.
“A reduction in force has to be an option on the table,” McQuiston said, adding, “everything that’s been suggested today I have no problem considering.”
McQuiston made a motion to reopen the recently adopted county budget, going through Tier I, or “essential,” departments in an effort to look for more cuts.
“I should not have voted for the budget,” he said.
McQuiston’s vote to reopen budget hearings failed 3-2, with Supervisors Maben, Mike Maggard and Ray Watson voting to stick with the adopted budget. Maggard said reopening the budget would result in costly delays.
In public comment, county employees expressed their willingness to help, but a belief that more cutting is necessary.
An employee from the Auditor-Controller’s office commented that hundreds of county cell phones were going unused, costing thousands annually.
Michael Turnipseed, representing the Kern County Taxpayers Association, told Supervisors they had come to a “fork in the road.”
“You have an absolute structural problem as bad as the state,” he said.