In 1996, in response to the bankruptcy, the County of Orange commissioned KH Consulting Group to conduct the first and only comprehensive study comparing County worker salaries and benefits to other public and private sector workers. The study found that County salaries were at or below regional market range for 78% of the positions, and benefit costs were below average. Additionally, the County spent a smaller percentage of salary costs on benefits than other employers. Nationally, average benefit costs were 28.8% of salaries, while County benefits ranged from 11% to 25% for most positions. Vacation and sick pay benefits for County workers were less than those provided to other employees. County workers received 37.5 days of vacation, holiday, sick, and annual leave while others received between 38.4 and 39.5 days of paid time off.
The study concluded that the pay and benefits for County Workers was at or below the market rate provided by other public and private sector employers in Orange County and the region.
Some people think: Ã¢â‚¬Å“People line up around the block for county jobs.Ã¢â‚¬Â However the facts just donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t back them up. County worker salaries are based on a 12 step salary scale. The intent is that new employees be hired at the lower steps, however to attract and hire qualified applicants a large percentage of jobs must be offered at the highest pay levels between steps 8 and 12.
Opponents believe the myth that most County workers get merit raises every year. The myth is not true. In at least one County agency, 71% of workers are at the top of their salary scale or will be after their next performance review. In fact, almost 60% of County workers are already at the top of the scale. Once you add in the increased retirement contributions, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re taking a net cut in pay. Regardless of the increase in the cost of living, these workers will never get a raise without a general increase. This fact has a major impact on retention and the ability to recruit new workers. A 4.75% general increase is hardly inflated or out of line.
Little has changed for County workers since the study was conducted. County salaries have not kept pace with the cost of living; the retirement benefits are in line with the benefits for similar public sector workers; and the costs of the increased benefits are being fully paid by the workers, not the County.
With all of the debate, one simple fact remains; the one-year 4.75% general salary increase is reasonable and necessary to close the gap in market parity of pay and benefits for County workers.
Ask a County worker, who by the way is a taxpayer, and they will tell you: the Board of Supervisors should ratify the 4.75% salary increase offer they authorized County negotiators to make.
The August 20, 2006 Sunday Edition of the Orange County Register includes a version of this commentary responding to a piece by Reed Royalty of the OC Taxpayers Association Ã¢â‚¬Å“Orange County Pay DazeÃ¢â‚¬Â. You can read my response to Royalty Here.