Thursday, March 1, 2012

(Kern County) Grand Jury addresses County Supervisors’ salaries, travel expenses

By Stephanie Forshee
Daily Independent
Posted Mar 01, 2012 @ 10:30 AM

Ridgecrest, Calif. —

With a population less than in Sacramento, Contra Costa and Fresno counties, Kern County’s Board of Supervisors receive higher annual salaries - a point highlighted in a Grand Jury report released Wednesday. The report also addresses travel expenses for Kern County and its transportation and discretionary funds carryover.
According to the report, the administration and audit committee received two written complaints and numerous verbal inquiries and comments regarding activities and expenses incurred by the five supervisors. The recommendations of the Grand Jury essentially suggest more transparency for travel expenses
Kern’s supervisors oversee just less than 840,000 constituents and receive about $112,400 annually for salaries and benefits, whereas Sacramento County with its 1.4 million residents receives $103,260 per year. No recommendations were made to indicate a needed modification of salaries or transportation from the Grand Jury.
The report states that First District Supervisor Jon McQuiston consistently incurs the most travel reimbursements. Among the findings also are that he serves on the most committees, multiple outside of the County.
McQuiston confirmed that he does serve on several committees that meet in various cities inside and outside the county, as well as in other states at times.
“It’s all at the discretion of the Board,” he said.
He explained that he accrues the most travel time because he is the only supervisor who does not live in the Bakersfield area, with the exception of District Supervisor Zack Scrivner who recently moved to Tehachapi.
“When I work, my mileage starts at the Ridgecrest office. The general feedback I’ve had is they (Ridgecrest residents) are happy for me to reside in Ridgecrest. It is an expense, but I think to live in Ridgecrest and keep my promise to the community - nobody has ever complained to me from anywhere. I believe that at least the people in the Indian Wells Valley are appreciative I’ve stayed in Ridgecrest all these 15 years,” he said. “
The Grand Jury recommends that the Board write an annual summary stating the number of committees each supervisor serves on and the mileage and expenses incurred, and make the information public to increase public awareness and diminish criticism. Another recommendation for travel is that an out-of-county travel request and authorization form be submitted prior to the arrangement of the travel.
McQuiston deferred to the County Administrative Office on the feasibility of the Grand Jury’s recommendations, which must receive a response within 30 days.
Another concern listed is that the Discretionary Fund carryover for the 2010-2011 fiscal year was in excess of $1.8 million, whereas the other ten most populated areas throughout the state’s carryover vary from zero to $10 million. The Grand Jury requests that the Board of Supervisors clarify an amount to be allocated for each supervisor and appropriate 50 percent as a Contingency Fund.
Other recommendations on the fund are: “The remaining 50% can be allocated to Supervisors who submit a Board approved written request stipulating the purpose, cost, and estimated date of completion for a project (e.g., $X for new sewer system on 18th Street, Bakersfield, + estimated completion date). Institute an annual formal review of long term programs/projects identified by Supervisors. In cases where the carryover funds are not enough for the cost of a project, the annual input funds can be ear marked for the total cost of the identified project(s) and made public in an annual report—thus providing accountability and transparency for citizens. Although a $1.8 Million carryover is only a small percentage of the total County Budget, citizens consider this amount significant.”
“There’s a lot of little things you can fix for $5,000 to $10,000 that will never make it to the annual budget,” McQuiston said, citing the Teen Court in Ridgecrest to which he has allocated County discretionary funds.
District Supervisor Ray Watson echoed his support of keeping the discretionary funds intact and continuing to permit the carryover each year.
Watson said that if the carryover funds were not allowed, he would not be able to create a sewer trunk in South Taft that he has in the works which costs approximately $240,000, he said.
“The discretionary fund is helpful to me and my district,” he said. “They are small amount projects we can move forward on without having to get lumped in with dozens of major projects that have to be prioritized. A lot of these things fall to the bottom of the list. The sewer trunk, I’m hoping to have it built this year. It would have been very difficult otherwise.”
Both Watson and McQuiston agreed upon the accuracy presented within the Grand Jury statement and acknowledged the validity of the constituents’ concern.
“The information is as they represented,” McQuiston said. “People can draw whatever conclusions that they want to.”
Calls to the Grand Jury Foreman Dwight Reynolds and Supervisors Scrivner, Karen Goh, and Mike Maggard were unreturned for this article.

The final report can be found at

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