The San Benito County Board of Supervisors took initial steps at its April 16 meeting to make their elected positions into full-time jobs.
Though supervisorial seats are currently considered part-time positions, officials have argued in the past that the job requires full-time compensation. In 2017, the board attempted to raise their salaries by 37.5% but abandoned the move following public opposition. At the time, County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa justified the action by comparing supervisors salaries with neighboring counties, and said they had not received a pay raise in 15 years despite an increased workload because of understaffing.
At the meeting, the supervisors directed county staff to look into public concerns regarding the move to full-time status. Concerns raised included compensation, term limits and code of conduct, before getting input from the union and, later in the process, the public.
According to a draft presented by county budget officer Stewart Patri, San Benito County approved $708,655 in salaries and benefits, services and supplies, along with other charges for the board in the 2018-19 fiscal year. That’s an increase of over $100,000 from the prior fiscal year. The board salary budget is expected to decrease to about $600,000 in the 2019-20 fiscal year, according to the draft document.
Supervisor Peter Hernandez initially spoke against the move to full-time, saying the position was not a job, but a public service to the community.
“I didn’t confuse myself and my intent of running or lie to myself this is a part-time job,” Hernandez said. “If we’re talking about being full-time, then I’m confused because I always thought this was literally about a full-time service to the public.”
Hernandez said he did not take his position lightly and framed his life around it to make sure he served his constituents.
Making the move to full-time compensation would attract more experienced candidates who have the flexibility to attend community events and be more accessible to constituents, Supervisor Jim Gillio said. He added that one idea to maximize supervisor accessibility is to station supervisors in different county departments and have open calendars.
“I want this position to bring us into the future,” Gillio said. “San Benito County is not the San Benito County I grew up in anymore. We have a different population. We have a different economic engine, obviously agriculture is still our number one engine. However, we have a lot of opportunity now to bring jobs and other opportunities to our community.”
Supervisor Anthony Botelho, who’s in his fourth term on the board, said he ran to serve the community and agreed with Gillio that the county has changed and that demands are increasing. He suggested that a citizens advisory commission could examine supervisor salaries.
“I don’t think I would have ran for the fourth term unless I downsized my business significantly,” Botelho said. “I gave up 100 acres of ground and it kind of enabled me to run for this fourth term.”
County employee and SEIU member Christina Chavez cautioned supervisors about the timing of their decision, with negotiations between San Benito County and the Service Employees International Union approaching this year.
“I urge you to instill the same process that our contract negotiators are held to when we request an increase in salary when determining a salary increase with a proposed full-time position of the board,” Chavez said. “And that it be driven by research and data and carefully discussed.”
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