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Super salaries: Supes open up county coffers for top-paid employees

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Some of Placer County’s most generous employee contracts for the coming year were OK’d Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors. Topping the list was Dr. Olga Ignatowicz, who will receive a total compensation package topping out at $371,372. Her base pay as chief psychiatrist with the county’s adult system of care is $316,313 for the coming fiscal year starting in July – or $152.07 an hour. Supervisors also agreed to a pay the county’s longtime forensic pathologist Dr. Donald Henrikson a salary and benefits package worth $290,797 for the coming year. Dr. Richard Malek, who will also be working as a contract employee for the Health & Human Services Department, will be paid $256,357. Including benefits, his compensation package could be as high as $303,193. Supervisors were told that the salary and benefits reflect supply and demand for highly technical jobs that are mandated by state and federal regulations. Chairman Kirk Uhler voted with other supervisors to unanimously approve the compensation packages. “Market forces are at work,” Uhler said. “It’s what the market bears.” Auburnites enjoying a sunny day downtown Tuesday weren’t as willing to accept the high salaries taxpayers will have to absorb. “It seems out of proportion to any rational skill,” said Auburn’s Kathy Darling. “It’s all ridiculous and I don’t know the answer to the problem.” Janet Benson said she sees a police officer patrolling in a car who has greater risks and works in tougher conditions and wonders why that person doesn’t receive equal compensation. “Overpriced,” was the initial reaction by Auburn’s Jeremy Nickel. “For an individual, it seems like a hefty salary.” Before approving the pay packages, supervisors heard reports from health and law enforcement officials on why the high rates of compensation are justified. Health and Human Services is mandated to utilize doctors with psychiatric specialization to provide specific medication for adults and children receiving mental health services, Health Director Richard Burton stated. As well as Ignatowicz and Malek, supervisors also approved compensation packages of $150,115 and $181,680 for two other psychiatrists. “Combined, these critical staffs provide 4,400 residents with critical mandated mental health services,” Burton said. The services include after-hours crisis work, he said. “These services result in decreased hospitalization and increased community integration so that there is a decreased burden to families and our community as a result of untreated mental illness,” he said. Federal and state funds pay for $671,076 of the costs for the four physicians while the county general fund provides $335,284. Burton added that the overall compensation for the contracts has remained unchanged since 2006. Henrikson has been the county’s contracted pathologist since 2002. Sheriff Ed Bonner stated that the cost of forensic services would be much higher and provide his department with less flexibility if an outside vendor was brought in. FMG, the county’s backup pathologist, charges $950 for an external autopsy and $1,700 for an internal autopsy, he said. “In 2009, we requested 280 autopsies be performed,” Bonner said. “Based on these rates the costs would range from $266,000 to $476,000, depending on the autopsy requested.” The forensic pathologist’s compensation package is partially offset by contracts with Nevada County and Sierra County. About $100,000 is expected in the coming year from Nevada County and Sierra County paid $5,800 so far this year for services. The net cost to the county is expected to be $244,470, Bonner said.