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.