Did the police and fire departments sink Stockton?

July 11, 2012

How does a bankrupt city pay its public safety workers twice the median household income of the area’s residents? More important, why haven’t the city manager and council stopped this wage bonanza?

In Stockton, California, public safety workers earn on average 126 percent of the maximum salary and at least 200 percent of the minimum wage for their respective wage categories. The California State Controller’s Office has all the data, and it’s not pretty.

Stockton’s median household income was $50,011 in 2010. In contrast, the average total wage paid to a city police worker was $93,111. For employees of the fire department, it was $110,303. Admittedly, these are dangerous professions, but surely they are not so dangerous as to require pay of double the median household income of the entire community.

When you dig through the numbers, it is actually pretty depressing to see the amount of pay some city employees receive (the Controller’s data lists individuals’ take-home pay but not their names):

Classification Annual Salary Maximum Total Wages
Fire Captain $102,204 $235,132
Fire Captain $91,656 $203,644
Deputy Chief Of Police I $153,444 $254,511
Police Lieutenant $129,864 $227,891

Stockton, in its bankruptcy filing, admits that the city has had little-to-no success in getting the pay of its public safety workers under control, and these expenses consume about 76 percent of the general fund. When the city manager faced a general fund shortfall in May 2010, he temporarily suspended scheduled pay increases, restricted time off and closed a fire truck company after negotiations with the unions went nowhere. The city saved $23 million from these changes. The bankruptcy filing says that 2011 saw additional, “severe” reductions in personnel costs.

Understanding exactly what is happening in Stockton’s government is difficult because it is behind in filing its required financial statements – the 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is the most current document other than the bankruptcy filing. But even a freshman who has taken an undergraduate accounting course could look at the city’s labor expense and determine that even if revenues were healthy, the city’s fiscal situation is unsustainable.

The real losers in all this are the residents of Stockton. They pay exorbitant salaries to a small group of police officers and firefighters and are cheated of the public safety they deserve. Stockton has the right to break the labor and pension contracts of its unions as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. Let’s hope that’s what it does. The city needs a fresh start, and downsizing the power and salaries of union members is a good place to start.


SacBee: See what California cities pay police, firefighters

MuniLand: The debate over Stockton’s solvency

One comment

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This article is proof that unions have been abusing the public coffers for decades. Most of these firemen and police officers do not even have 4-yr college degrees and yet they’re making over $132K…..?????? I know engineers with Masters degrees who slaved away at tough engineering schools for 6 years who don’t make anywhere near that kind of money. How has our system of reward gotten so out of wack where a fireman with a High School degree can make that kind of money? Answer: unions browbeat spineless city administrators who, rather than be good stewards of the public coffers, instead “cave” to union thug tactics and sell-out the taxpayer. And this has been going on for decades and now it’s all falling apart because we have reached that point that Margaret Thatcher (former PM of England) spoke about when she said that Socialism ends when you run out of other peoples money to spend……

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