million deal reached to get deputies a raise
County leaders end controversial fund
By BEVERLY BARELA
September 14, 2017
an unprecedented move, the Merced County Board of Supervisors
voted unanimously this week to approve a roughly $1,000,000-a-year
deal to raise the salaries of Merced County Deputy Sheriffs
by 10 percent.
Meanwhile, they also did away with an annual budget practice
that allotted $200,000 to “special board projects”
approved by supervisors for community improvements in their
The 10 percent raise, on top of a 4 percent increase last
Fall, a 3 percent increase last July, and a 3 percent increase
this July, means that deputy sheriffs’ salaries will
have increased 20 percent by the end of their contract in
County Executive Officer Jim Brown said 50 percent of the
raise is being funded through revenue that traditionally
goes to the sheriff.
He said, "It is an existing revenue fund used for other
In making the deal, the supervisors decided to change a
long-standing practice of authorizing the sheriff’s
discretionary funds for his department’s equipment
needs and allowed him to divert the money to salaries instead.
Brown said, "The money was conceptually used toward
the front line. But we have traditionally used it for equipment
needs. By redirecting this, it will help fund deputies’
salaries. It will mean equipment challenges in the future.
But everyone said this is a priority so we made a change
in a practice."
Sounding committed, Brown responded to a question from Supervisor
Lee Lor about whether the use of the Sheriff’s AB
443 funds would be permanent, saying, "It would eventually
be a General Fund cost, whether in a few years, or whenever."
Weighing in, Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said that although
the board’s move was unprecedented and he doesn’t
want to see it happen very often, his priority is the safety
of the citizens.
O’Banion said, "Concern about crime and safety
has risen to the top. It’s not a want. It’s
a need. I hope the citizens will feel safer as time goes
Sheriff Vern Warnke, who described his situation as "16
deputies down", has soundly criticized the Board of
Supervisors for several years over their unwillingness to
provide enough pay for the county to retain its sheriff’s
deputies and recruit new ones. In 2014, the county’s
homicide rate was the highest in the State per 100,000 people,
according to the Department of Justice. As gang violence
ran rampant, deputies left their jobs in a "mass exodus"
to go to better-paying agencies, according to Sheriff Warnke
and a number of his staff members.
But on Tuesday, the sheriff was overjoyed that the supervisors
ratified the amendment to the 2016 agreement between the
county and deputy sheriff’s Association.
Describing the impact of the 20 percent overall raise, Warnke
told the Times it will boost the average deputy sheriff’s
salary in the low $3,000s per month to over $4,000 per month.
He explained, "I opted to pledge the discretionary
money that I use for equipment to get the deputies the salaries
they so deserve. We will take some of that and divert it
into the General Fund. It’s roughly $1,000,000 for
100 people to get a raise."
Sheriff Warnke continued, "My goal is full staffing
and the creation of a 4-man Gang Unit with a supervisor
to do gang investigations. I want to get the patrol deputies
staffing for back-up so they can do proactive work instead
He explained he plans to hire "qualified lateral candidates"
and also continue to train entry level deputies.
He said, "I’ve had good results with them. I
just graduated two from the police academy in Modesto and
swore them in."
As to how the deal came about, Sheriff Warnke said, "When
Jim Brown broke down the budget, we came up with a compromise."
During the meeting, Sheriff Warnke expressed gratitude to
the Board, and exclaimed, "It is already starting to
He said three former Merced County deputy sheriffs who left
to go to larger agencies which paid more have expressed
an interest in being rehired by Sheriff Warnke. Because
they left the department on good terms, he is happy to welcome
Warnke said, "When they see the pay scales, I think
we’ll get a lot more qualified lateral candidates."
Supervisors voted 3-2 to stop directing $200,000 —
or $40,000 for each supervisor — annually toward special
community projects for their individual districts. Supervisors
Rodrigo Espinoza and Lee Lor voted to keep the discretionary
funding that became controversial in recent years.
During election campaigns, various supervisor candidates
would call out the practice as being nothing short of a
“slush fund” for incumbents to be re-elected.
Supporters of the fund, however, said it was vital to support
community projects such as the restoration of a local VFW
Hall or new picnic areas at Kiddieland.
Unused money in the pool at the end of the fiscal year was
being rolled back into the county’s General Fund.
This week’s decision will allow supervisors to keep
and decide on whatever they have now in their accounts,
but the annual funding will remain in the county's general
fund for future budgets.
Both Espinoza and Lor expressed disappointment in the vote.
Previously they had teamed up on an idea to allow a committee
made up of residents to brainstorm ideas and vote on how
they would like the county to use the funds. It was part
of a new wave of “participatory budgeting,”
Supervisor Daron McDaniel, however, said his vote to do
away with the funds was in keeping with a campaign promise
of fiscal responsibility he made to the voters in his district
that includes Atwater and a small part of Merced. Supervisors
Lloyd Pareira and Jerry O’Banion agreed with the move
to end the funds.
According to Scott de Moss, assistant county executive officer,
at Tuesday’s meeting the County Supervisors approved
the FY 2017-18 operational budget, in final form, in the
amount of $633.1 million.
Of that amount, the General Fund budget is $484.1 million,
made up of department and dedicated revenues of $355.7 million,
leaving $128.4 million of net county costs. The net county
cost was balanced by local revenues of $89.6 million and
the fund balance of $38.8 million.
De Moss said, "Something important to point out is
that the board made a further investment in the county’s
reserves, those dollars set aside for future downturns in
the economy or natural disasters. They increased the reserves
to $30.1 million, an increase of $6.5 million over the previous
53 percent of net county costs (money that the board has
discretion over as to spending) is dedicated by the board
to public safety and the local justice system.