Paso Robles' 50 highest-paid city employees

Being certified for special jobs contributes to many employees’ annual take, as does overtime

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comMarch 13, 2011 

Extra pay for professional certificates and training helped boost the salaries of nearly half of the city of Paso Robles’ top 50 earners during fiscal year 2009-10, according to a Tribune review of salary information.

Fire captains, paramedics and firefighters make up more than half of the list. Aside from department heads, police sergeants and officers are predominant.

The top 50 earners are among 171 full-time employees the city had during that fiscal year. They represent those compensated from $114,900 to $223,600 annually, according to the data. Their annual base salaries ranged from about $64,900 to $144,100. All years listed are for fiscal years.

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

The information doesn’t include employee-specific numbers on city-paid contributions for health, vision, dental, life or long-term disability insurances.

That’s because contributions to those packages are based on how many dependents each employee files for. Personnel laws block disclosure of such details about individuals’ families.

But general contribution that Paso Robles taxpayers pay for employee health care plans, for example, range from about $440 per month for self-coverage to about $1,090 or $1,140 per month for family coverage, depending on a given employee’s union contract.

The data includes overtime, pensions and other forms of compensation, such as training incentives and vacation cash-outs — where employees can get money for unused vacation time.

Maintaining a certain level of fitness, having the ability to handle hazardous materials and being bilingual are among incentives the city offers that increase overall pay.

Of the 22 people who received such pay in 2009-10, 21 worked in the police or fire departments; the other person was the city librarian.

The majority of employee pay comes from the city’s general fund. In 2009-10, its budget was about $25.9 million, with roughly 67 percent going to employees.

Besides staff, the general fund also pays for other city services, such as parks.

Four top earners weren’t paid from the general fund in 2009-10, but from the city’s water and wastewater enterprise funds. That money comes from the city’s utility customers.

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

• About $26,800 more in overtime was spent in 2009-10 than in 2008-09.

• Police Chief Lisa Solomon was the city’s highest-compensated employee both years. She earned about $223,600 in 2009-10 and about $225,700 in 2008-09 in total compensation. That’s more than City Manager Jim App earned by about $3,100 in 2009-10 and by about $4,800 in 2008-09.

• Employees are allowed to get cash for a week’s worth of vacation time instead of taking those days off. Six employees did that in 2008-09 for a total of about $11,800, while eight employees cashed out a total of $19,500 in vacation pay in 2009-10.

• Contributions to pensions totaled about $2.7 million for both fiscal years reviewed. The contributions are negotiated by the unions.

The role of overtime

In December, a Tribune report revealed that 85 percent of San Luis Obispo’s top 50 paid workers were police and fire employees. The city spent more than $3 million in total overtime paid to them in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

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

By comparison, as the second-largest city in the county, Paso Robles spent $722,300 total in overtime to top earners during the fiscal years in the same period.

All of its overtime can be attributed to the city’s public safety employees.

Paso Robles’ public safety services are divided between the Police Department and its Emergency Services Department, which includes the Fire Department and paramedics.

No one reason points to why overtime is needed, according to city leaders.

“There are a lot of variables,” Emergency Services Chief Ken Johnson said.

Examples include when employees are out sick or injured and when firefighters are called to respond to emergencies on countywide strike team assignments, Johnson said.

Countywide assignments can take employees away from the city for stretches from several days to a few weeks, he added.

In the Police Department, reasons for overtime include officers attending court hearings, late arrests or prisoner transports to the County Jail in San Luis Obispo, completing reports for the District Attorney’s Office and special investigations, Solomon said.

Training and coverage for staff shortages related to low staff levels, sick leave or other time off also contribute, she said.

Pay incentives

Specialized certificates get some top employees more pay than others.

Employees are compensated for these certificates as negotiated in their contracts. Many must pass tests and demonstrate certain skills to qualify.

The allotments are made as a percentage of base pay, officials said. So some employees receive more than others for that reason.

The incentives are beneficial because they encourage employees to be at their personal best, their bosses said.

“As an officer achieves in each of these areas, proficiency and expertise increases,” Solomon said.

Six of her employees were paid a total of about $3,200 for the physical fitness stipend in 2009-10. They passed agility tests every six months to get it.

Climbing, cardio and demonstrated strength to chase and apprehend suspects are among the tests an officer is required to pass.

“A greater level of fitness provides them with the physical wherewithal to perform these duties well and with reduced injury,” Solomon said.

The city librarian gained $830 in 2009-10 for being bilingual because she passed rigorous written and verbal tests, according to the city. She speaks English and Spanish.

Stipends for the sergeant and officers with police dogs went to three employees in 2009-10, for a total of about $25,400.

The money goes to the added care, maintenance and training the handlers provide the animal each day outside of the normal workday, Solomon said.

Hazardous-materials pay covers the certification — extra training, knowledge and continuing education required — and assignment to the county’s hazardous materials response team. Four Fire Department employees received that pay in 2009-10 for a total of roughly $6,300.

Emergency services also paid 13 employees for being able to drive the fire engines and operate the pump. That’s a total of about $22,800.

Johnson and an emergency services battalion chief didn’t receive the stipend.

Other cities refer to this position as a separate job class, such as fire engineer, Johnson said. But Paso Robles makes sure all of its firefighters are capable of performing the work.

Employees are eligible after they complete their initial training, receive six months of additional training in the driver and operator position and achieve state driver and operator certification, according to the city.

City employees receive work phones, but must reimburse the city for any personal minutes used, city human resources manager Marlaine Sanders said.

The vehicle policies vary.

Six department heads receive a monthly auto stipend to reimburse mileage and to compensate for wear on their cars in driving to meetings and city-related business. In 2009-10, stipends totaled about $15,500. City policy prohibits them from driving outside the county without city manger approval.

City vehicles also go home with on-call employees in public works, police and emergency services because such vehicles are specially equipped for response.

Take-home vehicles in the Police Department are assigned to the chief, the captain, the on-call detective, the detective bureau commander and the Narcotics Task Force officer.

In emergency services, two vehicles are assigned. One goes to the chief and the other to the battalion chief. They are responsible for a 15-minute response to any incident requiring two or more fire engines, regardless of the time of day or day of week, Johnson said.

Effect of budget cuts

The city has been cutting costs over the past three years as sales and property tax revenues decline.

It has cut 30 percent of its staff through attrition and a hiring freeze. City employees have also agreed to delay their pay raises for more than two years. The latest agreement, made in 2010, lasts through June 30.

The deferrals push back the date that employee raises would become effective, essentially forgoing the money they would have earned if the raise had been implemented when originally scheduled, Sanders said.

Because the raises are not retroactive, “there is no ‘balloon payments’ that would impact annual salary when the raise goes into effect,” she added.

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