OC Poised to Approve $334 Million in Raises Covering 11,000 Employees

Board of Supervisors at the September 24, 2019 meeting.

A majority of Orange County employees are on track to get 2.5-percent annual raises for most of the next three years, on the heels of larger raises for sheriff’s deputies approved two weeks ago.

The proposed labor contracts, up for approval by county supervisors Tuesday, cover about 11,000 county government workers represented by the Orange County Employees Association (OCEA), including mental health workers, public health nurses, social workers, and sheriff’s special officers. OCEA represents about two-thirds of the county’s roughly 17,000 employees.

The raises call for 2.5 percent annual increases now and for the next two years, followed by a 3.5 percent raise in July 2022. Officials estimate the cost at $334 million over the four-year contract, $238 million of which would come from unrestricted county funds that can be used for any government purpose.

At their most recent meeting, on Oct. 8, county supervisors unanimously approved 3.5-percent annual raises to deputy sheriffs and DA investigators for the next three years, totaling an estimated $151 million over the contract period, $110 million of which would be from unrestricted funds.

The deputy raises total 14.7 percent over three years, with OCEA raises totaling 11.5 percent during the same period.

When the final raises take effect in 2022, the additional taxpayer costs average $31,400 annually for each sheriff’s deputy, sheriff sergeant and DA investigator; and $12,600 annually for each OCEA employee.

A separate set of raises for 91 law enforcement managers at the Sheriff’s Department and DA’s office also is up for approval Tuesday. It calls for the same 3.5 percent annual raises sheriff’s deputies will get, totaling 14.7 percent in raises over the next three years.

The law enforcement management raises are estimated to total $8.9 million between now and the end of the contract in June 2023, with $7.3 million coming from unrestricted county funds.

As was the case with sheriff’s deputy raises, the official cost estimates for the proposed OCEA and law enforcement management contracts leave out how much the raises will increase taxpayers’ long-term pension costs, which typically increase when raises are awarded.

The county’s chief spokeswoman, Molly Nichelson, previously declined to say what the pension impacts are from the sheriff’s deputy raises and why they weren’t included in the agenda documents.

The new labor deals come after years of county supervisors cutting discretionary spending from health and social services and substantially increasing spending at the Sheriff’s Department, largely for salary and benefits for existing employees.

Over the five fiscal years ending in June 2016, county supervisors cut about $39 million in annual funding they control from the county Health Care Agency, which includes mental health services, while at the same time adding $59 million to the Sheriff’s Department’s annual budget.

For the latest contract negotiations with sheriff’s deputies, county officials put together a chart comparing how OC sheriff deputies’ compensation compares with their counterparts in other counties and city police officers.

Before the new raises, the total compensation for an OC deputy sheriff at the top of the salary range was about $18,600 per month, or $223,000 per year, not including overtime, according to the county data.

A county spokeswoman on Friday did not disclose such a comparison for OCEA and law enforcement management compensation, after Voice of OC requested it.

The OCEA deal terms were reached Oct. 8, and county officials first disclosed the raises’ financial impact on Oct. 18, the Friday afternoon before the Tuesday meeting – a similar timing approach to the sheriff’s deputy raises earlier this month.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.