Chiefs of staff paid $200,000 salaries in San Bernardino County

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The chiefs of staff for the San Bernardino County supervisors are the nearly invisible counterparts of their elected bosses.

But for the work they do behind the scenes, they garner generous salaries - nearly as high as those of the powerful politicians who appoint them.

There are five supervisors in the county, and each employs a chief of staff.

Taxpayers pick up the $227,035 to $246,856 annual tab for each chief of staff. That's more than $1.1 million a year.

"The chief of staff is the top adviser, the closest adviser to the supervisor, and also is in charge of all other staff and management and functions of the office," said 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, who previously served as a chief of staff. "The chief of staff needs to know virtually everything that the supervisor knows, but often in even greater detail. It's a very key position."

All the chiefs of staff receive the same hourly wage of $65.68, or $136,614 annually. But benefits packages bump up the overall cost of their employment by more than $90,000.

Mitzelfelt said the salaries are competitive to attract experienced job candidates and to compensate the chiefs of staff for working in positions with little job security.

In comparison, supervisors are paid $144,000 annually and receive such benefits as a $184 monthly stipend for cell phones and $500 a month for health insurance, money they can pocket if they don't use it.

When all the benefits are added together, the total taxpayer burden for each supervisor comes to about $266,000, depending on years of government service and the benefits each supervisor has chosen to accept.

Similarly, a number of benefits also bump up the cost of employing the chiefs of staff.

In addition to health insurance, life insurance and retirement benefits, the staffers each get a monthly cell-phone allowance, and an annual car allowance of $12,000.

Riverside County pays its chiefs of staff a smaller salary and provides fewer benefits.

Salaries, not including benefits, range from $91,228 to $125,403 annually.

That's about $10,000 to $45,000 less than the $136,614 each chief of staff in San Bernardino County is paid.

Unlike San Bernardino County, Riverside County does not pay a cell phone or mileage stipend to chiefs of staff. Cell phones and county car usage are paid out of each supervisor's district budget, said Lys Mendez, Riverside county spokeswoman. The districts must request use of a county car and are billed for the time used, she said.

Jim Erwin, chief of staff for incoming Supervisor Neil Derry, said a proposal is in the works for scaling back some of the benefits given to supervisors. Derry, who won his seat in June, ran on a platform of cleaning up government excess.

The proposal could be presented to the board as early as December, Erwin said.

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