Merced set to hire longtime Sutter County CEO

The longtime chief administrator of Sutter County has accepted an offer to become Merced County's new CEO, both counties announced this week.

Larry Combs, 60, is slated to begin Nov. 30 in Merced. He will replace Dee Tatum, who has served as chief executive office since 2001 and announced in January that he will retire at the end of this year.

Merced County said in a written statement issued Monday afternoon that the Board of Supervisors has appointed Combs on a preliminary basis. Supervisors are set to vote to officially hire him during an open meeting Oct. 27, the county said.

Combs has worked 26 years as the chief administrator of Sutter County, which is located north of Sacramento and has a population less than half that of Merced County.

Supervisors chose Combs for his demonstrated success in Sutter, where he has managed the county's budget and forged partnerships with cities and neighboring counties, the county's statement said.

During his time as Sutter's chief administrator, the county has "been fiscally stable, with little debt, a large reserve and no employee layoffs, even in light of state cutbacks," the statement said.

The CEO is the highest nonelected official in the county. The position's responsibilities include implementing policies set by the Board of Supervisors and managing Merced County's 2,300 employees and its $460 million annual budget.

By comparison, Sutter County employs roughly 1,000 people and keeps a yearly budget of about $250 million.

Supervisors said during their search for a new CEO that they were looking for an experienced candidate capable of shepherding the county through difficult financial times.

Faced with a sharp decline in tax revenues and massive funding cuts handed down from Sacramento, the county slashed its budget in the summer by $30 million.

Supervisors have said they're preparing for even tougher times ahead.

"I think that experience handling a county and a county budget, that was very important to us," Supervisor Hub Walsh said.

Tatum, who is 62, is slated to leave the county Dec. 18, three weeks after Combs is expected to start.

Assuming his appointment is confirmed, Combs will earn a yearly base salary of $205,000, plus car, phone and expense allowances.