They’re some of the highest paid Californians, but they don’t work for tech giants like Apple or Google, they work for you, and they’re paid with your tax dollars.
New data released by the California Controller’s Office and analyzed by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit revealed a spike in the number of high-paid city and county government employees.
According to the data, 104 local government workers took home more than the President of the United States in 2012, earning more than $400,000 in total wages. That’s up from 2011, when only 68 workers topped $400,000.
The highest paid county worker was an Orthopedic Surgeon for Kern Medical Center in Kern County, making $1,040,651.
The highest paid city worker was the City Manager for Buena Park who took home $545,394. This marks the third consecutive year where the highest paid city employee in California is the city manager of a small town in Southern California, following Indian Hills in 2011 ($677,172), and Bell in 2010 ($765,237).
BAY AREA SALARIES
Some of the top wage earners in the Bay Area include the following:
- A city attorney in Pleasant Hill: 465,209
- An Alameda County administrator: $463,793
- A fire chief for the city of Milpitas: $ 461,212
- A fire chief in Millbrae who made $416,931
The growing number of high paid public workers is a trend that has government watchdog groups calling for more accountability.
“Anytime there’s a highly compensated individual, you have to ask, whether or not that person is appropriately compensated,” California Common Cause executive director Kathay Feng told NBC Bay Area.
Feng said that bonuses and overtime can often indicate whether public money is being properly managed.
“When overtime starts to exceed [an employee’s] base pay, you have to ask whether or not the city is making good judgments,” Feng said.
OVERTIME AND BONUSES
NBC Bay Area’s analysis of bonuses and overtime payments found many of the top overtime earners were right here in the Bay Area.
Chief among them? A fire lieutenant for the city of San Francisco who pulled in $220,909 in overtime, the most out of any city or county employee in the state. That was on top of the employee’s $128,809 base salary.
Not far behind on the list of top overtime earners: an Oakland police officer who made $206,825 in overtime, in addition to $98,095 in base pay.
The Bay Area agency that paid the most in overtime, according to state data, was the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which paid a combined total of $55,508,594 to workers in overtime. That’s more than the overtime totals for San Francisco Fire ($33,848,516), San Francisco Police ($41,527,562), the entire city of Oakland ($38,771,300) and San Jose ($28,582,468).
SFMTA also had one of the biggest bonus payouts in the state, paying a transit manager $200,951 in additional compensation, adding to that employee’s $98,211 salary.
“What it says to me is that these compensation levels are rising, and they’re rising unchecked. Citizens are not calling foul,” Autumn Carter with the Los Altos-based think tank California Common Sense said.
Carter said examining public salaries is one way to prevent cities from heading towards potential bankruptcy.
“If you think back to Stockton and Vallejo, they weren’t having these conversations beforehand. It’s only after the fact that we tend to wake up and say, ‘Hey these compensation levels are simply unsustainable,’” Carter said.
For most cities, including Oakland and San Jose, emergency services were responsible for the lion’s share of overtime costs.
However, in Santa Clara, that was not the case.
State records show that the most of the city’s overtime costs were paid to electric utility workers with Silicon Valley Power, totaling $2,834,744. That’s more than the $2.3 million in overtime paid to police, fire and all other city workers combined.
Silicon Valley Power manager Larry Owens said he’s not surprised by high overtime and attributes the costs to a shortage in skilled electrical workers.
“Having a lot of overtime is certainly not sustainable,” Owens said.
He said the department’s overtime has risen over the past two years because of Santa Clara’s recent boom in development. The city is currently involved in 20 major projects, including the new 49ers stadium, and is currently hiring more workers to reduce overtime costs.
“I firmly believe Silicon Valley Power is doing the best it can to meet the demands of customers and continue to provide safe and reliable power,” Owens said.
Meanwhile, government watchdogs say it’s important for public agencies to balance their promises to workers with fiscal responsibility for taxpayers.
“The attention that people are now giving is important. It allows us to gauge what the public is willing to spend for good talent, and what might be crossing the line,” Feng said.