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.