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Top earners in Sonoma County government

Search pay and benefit information for county employees and employees of county-overseen districts by department, job title, name or salary here.

Top 10 earners, by pay, plus county supervisors

1. Gerald Turney, $341,821, Deputy, Sheriff’s Office
2. David Berges, $260,201, Sergeant, Sheriff’s Office
3. Mark Provost, $257,329, Deputy, Sheriff’s Office
4. Veronica Ferguson, $256,530, County Administrator
5. Redacted*, $247,251, Sergeant, Sheriff’s Office
6. Spencer Crum, $246,434, Sergeant, Sheriff’s Office
7. Jose Acevedo, $242,148, Deputy, Sheriff’s Office
8. Grant Davis, $240,710, General Manager, Sonoma County Water Agency
9. Jill Ravitch, $239,516, District Attorney
10. Michael Raasch, $237,918, Sergeant, Sheriff’s Office
94. David Rabbitt, $167,594, District 2 Supervisor
100. Shirlee Zane, $165,577, District 3 Supervisor
103. Susan Gorin, $165,388, District 1 Supervisor
155. Efren Carrillo, $155,901, District 5 Supervisor
233. James Gore, $145,152, District 4 Supervisor
*Name not released due to involvement in undercover operations.

For the third straight year, the highest-paid Sonoma County government employee in 2016 was a Sheriff’s Office deputy patrolling the Sonoma Coast. Bodega Bay-based Deputy Gerald Turney logged 2,311 hours of paid overtime last year on his way to pulling in total pay of $341,821, including $189,866 in overtime.

Turney’s earnings last year were $143,649 more than his boss Sheriff Steve Freitas, who made $198,172 and was 29th among the county’s highest-paid employees, according to payroll records released this month to The Press Democrat.

The records show that, after Turney, the other nine employees among the top 10 highest-paid in county government each made over $235,000. They included: the former county administrator Veronica Ferguson, at $256,530 total earnings; Grant Davis, the head of the county Water Agency, at $240,710; District Attorney Jill Ravitch with $239,516; and six other sworn Sheriff’s Office employees.

Together, the small group accounted for just less than 1 percent of the county’s $439 million 2016 payroll — including pay and benefits. Those expenses rose 8 percent from 2015 and accounted for nearly a third of the county’s $1.6 billion budget.

County Administrator Sheryl Bratton said the increase in payroll costs was fueled largely by pay and health care benefit increases included in contracts that kicked in last year with nine of the county’s 11 labor unions and bargaining groups.

Public employee unions in the Bay Area and throughout the state also have won wage and benefit increases, after years of pay freezes and cuts in the wake of the recession.

“Our primary goal is to attract the highest-caliber candidates we can,” said Bratton. “We have to remain competitive in the job market.”

The county did not have a recent study available to show how its salaries compare with other local governments in the state.

Bratton took over Oct. 24 from Ferguson, the former county administrator, who was fourth on the list of the top 10 highest-paid employees.

An assistant county counsel before her promotion, Bratton was 33rd on the list, with total earnings of $192,037. She received a $68,249 increase in base pay and is likely to be among the highest-paid employees in 2017.

County Supervisors have a base salary of $143,719 and a maximum of $174,713, but all five of the elected officials fell somewhere between.

On the high end, Supervisor David Rabbitt, representing the south county, was the 94th highest-paid county employee and the highest-paid supervisor in 2016, with total earnings of $167,594. On the low end, Supervisor James Gore, representing the north county and the newest member of the board last year, brought in $145,152 in total earnings making him the 233rd high paid employee.

The payroll records, which are public under state law, detail regular earnings, overtime pay and benefits, including county-paid costs for medical insurance and pensions, for 5,537 full- and part-time employees throughout 2016. All told, 979 county employees, nearly a quarter of the total 4,131 permanent full-time positions, earned six figures in 2016.

County labor leaders said that figure is a sign that county departments and agencies are growing top heavy.

“If you look at all of the top positions they are managers, directors and law enforcement. That’s frustrating because people get the wrong impression, they think all public employees are making six figures,” said Lisa Maldonado, director of Service Employees’ International Union Local 1021.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

The union represented nearly 2,800 county workers last year with average pay of $48,277, according to county records.

Many county employees represented by SEIU are still struggling to get by, Maldonado said, with their pay not keeping up with the increasing housing and other living expenses. Sonoma County did concede to greater health care spending on employees in the most recent contract negotiated by SEIU. Maldonado called that a step in the right direction.

Of the top 50 earners in county government, 22 work at the Sheriff’s Office, the records show. They include nine deputies, eight sergeants, two assistant sheriffs, one lieutenant, one captain and the sheriff.

Overtime costs continued to boost pay for many of those employees. It totaled nearly $1.7 million for the group in the top 50 county earners.

For the seven Sheriff’s Office employees in the top 10, it was $877,097, or about 48 percent of their total earnings. Overtime cost the Sheriff’s Office just over $13 million in 2016, 6 percent of its total spending on employee compensation.

The department, which has struggled in recent years to fill open positions, is now just 12 shy of the 247 full-time sworn employees it needs to be fully staffed, said Sgt. Spencer Crum, the Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

Crum, a 19-year Sheriff’s Office veteran, was the sixth highest-paid county employee, earning $246,434, including nearly $100,000 in overtime.

In 2016, deputies averaged 32 hours of overtime a month, down from an average of 55 hours in 2014, Crum said.

Though their ranks are better staffed now, deputies still need to work extra hours for “sick calls, vacation coverage, training coverage, hospital guards, major crimes, crime scene security or a myriad of other reasons that would cause OT,” Crum said in an email.

Turney, who took in $78,119 more in overtime than his regular pay, is often the sole responder to emergency calls ranging from missing persons to domestic abuse.

On April 1, he was on the scene after a 13-year-old girl jumped from a moving vehicle in an attempt to escape her suspected rapist and kidnapper.

Turney declined to comment for this story.

The county is the largest local employer, and it has faced scrutiny in the past from labor leaders and others over the pay earned by its top managers.

But pension costs appear to be the larger concern for taxpayer watchdogs. The county has seen those expenses rise by 86 percent from a decade ago, now accounting for nearly 18 percent of its payroll expenses.

While the pay earned by some senior county employees might be cause for sticker shock, said Dan Drummond, executive director of the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association, county agencies need to stay competitive with the salaries paid by other local governments.

“Sometimes too much is made of highest-salary employees,” said Drummond, whose organization has long battled the county over rising pension costs. “You get what you pay for, and managing county government is a sophisticated task.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.

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