With Orange County facing the possibility of $100 million in budget cuts over the next five years, and Gov. Jerry Brown set to propose an austere state budget, county government executives are seeing their paychecks fatten by an extra 5 percent.
The executive pay bump -- which benefits about 125 executives, including Chief Executive Tom Mauk -- comes from the scheduled sunset of a pay cut the executives took 18 months ago.
The pay cut also impacted countywide elected officials, although three -- Auditor/Controller David Sundstrom, Assessor Webster Guillory and former Treasurer/Tax Collector Chriss Street -- stopped taking the cut last July.
Mauk defended the pay raise, calling it the "elimination of a pay cut."
He said the county's executive ranks should be credited for taking the earlier cuts and saving taxpayers up to $4 million over the last 18 months.
"I applaud their leadership," Mauk said.
However, the county's main labor union and one newly elected county supervisor argue that in this kind of budget environment, nobody should be taking pay cuts back.
"The purpose of the cuts was not for a time period," Supervisor Shawn Nelson said. "It was to show we wouldn't ask people to do things we wouldn't do ourselves. And if the employees are still dealing with cuts, then so should I."
Nelson said he was checking into whether paychecks for county supervisors have been fattened up.
Nick Berardino, general manager for the Orange County Employees Association, said the move was "perhaps the worst leadership decision that I've witnessed in 38 years."
"At a time when we all need to cooperate the most, and rank and file have already given so much with layoffs and furloughs, they have slammed the door of cooperation in the face of their employees," he said.
Last month, when county leaders unveiled their strategic financial plan -- estimating $100 million in cuts over the next five years -- they listed a series of changes to items such as pensions that would require labor groups to be flexible.
Berardino said watching pay cuts canceled for executives makes it "extraordinarily difficult" to have that discussion.
Mauk said Berardino's criticisms are "irresponsible."
"Before we get all agitated about this 5 percent restoration, which did save a lot of money, let's catch our breath and see what happens" with the state budget, Mauk said.
-- NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.