Atascadero's 50 highest-paid city employees

Tribune special report: 36 of 50 top city earners are in public safety, and many took home thousands in overtime

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comApril 23, 2011 

Overtime and cashed-out leave helped boost the annual pay of many of the city of Atascadero’s top 50 earners in fiscal year 2009-2010, according to a Tribune review of salary information.

And like other cities in San Luis Obispo County, Atascadero’s public safety employees made up nearly three-quarters of the list. Nineteen are with the Police Department, while 17 are from the Fire Department.

Of the top 21, 15 were in public safety.

The top 50 earners were among the 120 full-time employees on Atascadero’s payroll during that fiscal year. Base salaries for the top 50 ranged from about $73,400 to $157,300. When adding in overtime and incentives, such as not taking sick time, the compensation for the top earners ranged from about $78,900 to $162,900 annually.

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 newspaper’s ongoing effort to review public employee compensation in San Luis Obispo County.

Other forms of compensation are also included, such as cell phone, vehicle and uniform allowances for work use only. Personal use of city-issued cell phones and vehicles must be paid back per minutes and mileage, officials said.

The data don’t include employee-specific numbers on benefits paid — including contributions to health, vision, dental, life insurance or long-term disability plans — because the city shields disclosure of employee dependents.

But general contributions that taxpayers pay for city employee health care plans range from about $525 per month for employee-only coverage to about $1,130 per month for family coverage, depending on a given employee’s union contract.

Cash incentives that Atascadero pays its employees for being bilingual, pursuing educational courses and materials or achieving certain training are also not included in the data. Atascadero’s payroll system can’t break out those figures, according to the city’s finance department.

Overtime and standby pay — when employees are placed on-call — helped increase portions of public safety employees’ compensation, according to the report.

Those unions say overtime is necessary to safely staff police and fire.

For police employees, the cashed-out leave also includes holiday time. Since police staff holidays as regular work days, they negotiated for 96 hours a year to take off or cash out. At the end of the calendar year, the city pays off any unused holiday time for police, Administrative Services Director Rachelle Rickard said.

McKinney top paid

City Manager Wade Mc-Kinney was Atascadero’s top-paid employee in the fiscal year reviewed.

McKinney made about $157,300 in annual salary. That compensation rose to about $162,900 when accounting for the roughly $2,400 in sick leave payout and $3,200 in medical payback he received that year.

Sick leave payouts are given to eligible full-time city employees as a “stay well bonus,” allowing them to cash up to one-third of their unused sick leave each year once they reach 384 hours of unused time.

Medical payback is given to those hired prior to Sept. 1, 2000, who opted for a cheaper health insurance plan than they’re entitled to, such as taking the employee-only plan instead of family coverage.

Pay for department directors

While the data on Atascadero’s top 50 paid employees don’t include total compensation paid, city officials late last year posted those details for its nine executives on the city’s website following a request by The Tribune for the information.

Overall employee compensation increases by tens of thousands of dollars when accounting for the various benefits and compensation the city pays into, according to its online report, found under the government tab at

McKinney’s total compensation, for example, is listed at about $253,300 for calendar year 2010 in the online report. That’s compared with his $162,900 in annual pay received in fiscal year 2009-2010 in the top earners data.

The city declined to research the same total compensation data for its other 41 top earners because Rickard said it would take too much staff work to determine the figures in a timely manner.

Among the differences: Health and life insurance contributions are included in the online report.

In a top-paid report The Tribune published in February for Paso Robles, city officials said personnel laws blocked them from disclosing those contributions because personal information regarding the number of dependents was involved.

Rickard said Atascadero’s city attorney would likely stand by the rule as well, but the city posted that information online because the department heads supported the decision.

The online report also shows taxpayer contributions to Medicare, unemployment, workers compensation, retirement pensions, deferred compensation and nontaxable life insurance and long-term disability policies.

The city spent a total of approximately $1.6 million in total salary and benefits for its nine executives in calendar year 2010.

McKinney was the only employee listed on the report with contributions to a 401-A retirement fund paid for exclusively by the city — with a sum of about $8,100 that year. It also paid approximately $29,700 to his pension that year.

McKinney is the only city manager in the county to receive an annual stipend for health club dues, as negotiated in his contract. When he was hired in 1997, his contract provided for the cost of an annual physical exam. The contract in 2001 was amended to provide a health club membership instead of the physical exam after McKinney said he suffered minor chest pains.

The dues paid in calendar year 2010 were $425, according to a city report.

Last week, McKinney said he dropped the health club membership in recent weeks as a cost-saving measure for the city.

Another element of Mc-Kinney’s contract isn’t related to his city pay but was recently questioned by the public. He is limited to 10 hours per month for any paid work outside his city hours. In 1997, the City Council added the restriction to his spare time so McKinney’s main focus would remain on the city.

“I couldn’t go be a Realtor on the side,” McKinney said, as an example.

He can, however, take small freelance or speaking assignments, he said, and does on occasion.

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