FREMONT — One of the East Bay's highest-paid public employees this week received a significantly lower raise than an outside consultant had recommended — giving her at least $843,000 a year, including bonuses.

The five-member Washington Township health care district board of directors unanimously voted Thursday to increase CEO Nancy Farber's base pay 3.5 percent, from $593,000 to nearly $614,000. It also awarded her $230,000 in performance bonuses.

Farber, who has headed the Fremont-based health district for 15 years, took home $876,831 in base salary and bonuses last year. That was $324,193 more than she made in 2007. It also placed her at the top of the Bay Area News Group's public employee salary survey released earlier this year.

It's unknown if Farber will receive additional pay that could push her 2009 earnings up to or above last year's total.

Board members said newspaper coverage of Farber's salary didn't contribute to the lower raise, rather, they attributed it to the poor economy and the fact that a major union recently agreed to a 3.5 percent increase.

But several board members used their time during Wednesday's meeting to criticize Bay Area News Group articles this year on her salary.

"I think it's disgraceful this has become an issue about Nancy Farber," said board member and Fremont Bank Vice Chairman Mike Wallace. "If the newspaper has any (courage), you should attack the board members. I think you should attack me."

Board members have said that even though Farber is a public employee, she shouldn't have been included in the newspaper salary survey because, unlike most public agencies, the hospital district is funded through operating revenue, not taxes. It is, however, using a voter-approved $180 million bond to build new facilities.

The board ties Farber's salary to revenue growth, which has soared in recent years.

From 2006 through 2008, Washington made 54 percent more from treating patients, even through the number of patient days actually decreased, according to the hospital's audited financial reports.

The audits chalk up the increased patient revenue primarily to "market-based price adjustments." That means the hospital raised rates on insurers, which can lead to higher insurance premiums for residents.

Hospital spokesman Christopher Brown said the rate hikes were in response to similar increases negotiated by neighboring hospitals and that increased revenue allows the district to better care for the needy.

Based on the district's policy of paying Farber a base salary at the 65th percentile of a national peer group, she was actually due a nearly 10 percent raise this year to a base salary of $652,000, according to the district's salary consultant, Integrated Healthcare Strategies.

The consultant never provided the board with a copy of the peer hospitals it used to determine Farber's salary, and the board voted for the pay raise without asking for the comparison.