Arroyo Grande's, Grover Beach's and Pismo Beach's 50 highest-paid city employees

Review of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach finds police and fire employees rank among the highest earners

clambert@thetribunenews.comFebruary 26, 2011 

Public safety employees make up more than half of the top earners — those earning more than $100,000 a year — in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach, according to a Tribune review of salary information.

About half of each city’s top 50 employees work in the police or fire department.

Tribune reporters filed public information requests late last year to obtain salary data for the top 50 earners in each city as part of The Tribune’s ongoing effort to review public employee compensation in San Luis Obispo County.

The salary data includes overtime and other forms of compensation, such as vehicle and cell phone allowances, holiday pay and education incentives. It does not include employer-paid contributions to health insurance, Social Security and Medicare.

Other highlights from the data, requested for fiscal years 2008-09 and 2009-10, show:

• Of the 14 employees who made more than $100,000 in Arroyo Grande in the 2009-10 fiscal year, 10 worked for the Police or Fire Department. Five were pushed over the $100,000 mark because of overtime pay.

• In 2009-10 in Pismo Beach, police employees collectively earned the largest amount of overtime. But the largest individual amounts of overtime went to workers at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Three employees there each earned from about $13,000 to more than $16,000 in overtime that year, pushing their salaries above $70,000 each.

• Grover Beach’s police chief, Jim Copsey, is the city’s highest-compensated employee and makes more — by about $5,000 — than the city manager.

In December, a Tribune report revealed that 85 percent of San Luis Obispo’s top 50 paid workers are police and fire employees.

The Tribune’s review of the two years’ worth of salary information for the smaller cities of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach found that together they spent about $1.1 million on overtime — about half of the $3 million San Luis Obispo spent during the same period.

The Tribune began its focus on public sector compensation after a Los Angeles Times investigation last summer revealed excessive salaries paid to employees and council members in the city of Bell in Los Angeles County. That controversy later prompted State Controller John Chiang to require the salaries of all city and county elected officials and administrators be posted on the state’s website.

Since then, several cities in San Luis Obispo County, including Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo, have posted salary information on their websites.

Arroyo Grande

Employee salaries and benefits made up 75.8 percent of Arroyo Grande’s $14.1 million general fund budget in 2009-10 and 78.4 percent its $13.7 million budget in 2008-09.

In 2009-10, the salary range of the top 50 earners was $65,981 to $150,791; in 2008-09, the range was $66,449 to $149,732.

An analysis of the salary information requested shows that in both years, eight fire and 23 police employees made the list of the top 50 earners. The fire and police employees also took home the bulk of overtime pay the city spent in both years.

In 2009-10, six fire employees took home a combined $109,055 in overtime — 38 percent of the $282,316 the city spent on overtime that fiscal year. Each of the employees received from $16,190 to $20,570 in overtime.

In the 2008-09 year, the same six fire employees earned a combined $146,484 in overtime. Three employees — two fire captains and a fire engineer — had their salaries pushed over the $100,000 mark because of overtime, each earning from $24,000 to $38,000 in overtime.

The two main reasons for overtime are employees covering shifts when another worker is sick or on vacation, or when firefighters are called to respond to emergencies on countywide strike team assignments, said Fire Chief Mike Hubert.

“I have five people on duty every day,” he said. “Any vacation, sick leave or workers compensation (vacancy) creates overtime.”

Arroyo Grande firefighters responded on six strike teams to major fires in Southern and Northern California in 2008-09, for which the state reimbursed the city $285,997. In 2009-10, firefighters fought Southern California fires, and the city was reimbursed $168,473.

The formation of the Five Cities Fire Authority, which includes the Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano departments, will not change the amount of overtime worked, Hubert said. The way the department is currently operated, he said, “is about the cheapest you can do it unless you go back to volunteers.”

The city’s police employees, mainly officers and sergeants, also took home overtime pay, but in smaller amounts: 20 people who made the top 50 list received a total of $148,908 in overtime in 2009-10, and $145,184 in 2008-09.

Their individual overtime costs ranged from $1,120 to $12,874 in 2009-10 and $1,530 to $12,437 in 2008-09.

Those overtime costs, police Chief Steve Annibali said, are much lower than four years ago. In fiscal year 2004-05, the city spent $290,000 on police overtime; that dropped to about $161,000 in 2008-09.

Annibali, who became chief in 2008, said he took steps to reduce overtime costs, including changing schedules to give officers the ability to cover shifts without working overtime.

Grover Beach

Grover Beach officials provided a list of salary and overtime costs for its top 50 employees for calendar year 2009. In the 2009-10 fiscal year, 71 percent of the city’s $7.4 million general fund budget paid city employees’ salaries and benefits.

The city has only 55 employees, so the salaries of the top 50 employees range from $52,980 to $145,067.

Only one of the seven city employees who earned more than $100,000 a year — a police sergeant — had overtime. The $10,380 he received pushed his salary over the $100,000 mark.

Thirty-one of the city’s top 50 earners received overtime pay in calendar year 2009, totaling $203,210. Of those, seven fire employees earned a total of $105,817 in overtime; 17 police employees received a total of $74,658.

The police employees — three sergeants, 10 officers and four records technicians or supervisors — received a range of overtime pay, from $298 to $13,294.

The Police Department’s overtime budget is among the lowest in the county, said Copsey, the police chief. This year’s budget, for example, includes $48,800 in overtime for police officers and dispatchers. (The difference between the calendar year overtime costs and fiscal year costs varied; City Manager Bob Perrault said the difference is likely due to comparing fiscal versus calendar year, but also that costs could have been higher due to vacancies and injuries that prompted a need for overtime.)

The overtime costs for Fire Department employees ranged from $578 (an administrative secretary) to $25,997 (a fire captain).

In the 2009-10 year, the state reimbursed $23,368 to Grover Beach for its response on strike teams to major fires throughout Southern California.

Pismo Beach

Employee salaries and benefits took 54.7 percent of Pismo Beach’s $15.4 million general fund budget in 2009-10 and 54.6 percent of its $15.3 million budget in 2008-09.

The city contracts with Cal Fire for fire services, so firefighters are not city employees nor do they appear on the city’s list of top 50 earners. In 2009-10, the city spent $1.3 million for Cal Fire to staff its Bello Street and Shell Beach stations.

Of its top 50 earners, nine Pismo Beach employees made more than $100,000 in 2008-09, and 10 hit that mark in 2009-10. In both years, six police employees — the police chief, two commanders and three sergeants — made more than $100,000.

Twenty-three police employees are on the list of top 50 earners for both fiscal years.

Police Department overtime ranged from $1,141 to $10,647 in fiscal year 2009-10 and from $2,133 to $15,788 in 2008-09.

Police officers may have additional overtime requirements because of the size and number of the city’s special events, Human Resources Officer Debra Garcia said.

Police Department officials schedule patrol shifts so as to reduce overtime, and preauthorize training and vacations to minimize the impact on minimum staffing requirements, Garcia wrote in an e-mail.

In June 2009, the City Council approved a 20 percent reduction in the Police Department overtime budget, which is $124,002 for fiscal year 2010-11.

But higher individual amounts were earned in those years by workers at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The plant is operational 24/7, and overtime may result from heavy rainfall, as the plant processes may require monitoring and adjustments, Garcia said.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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