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Small cities, big pay

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County communities are paying city and town managers at Bay Area prices even though the cost-of-living index is about 30 percent less, a new grand jury report says. But in a climate of declining revenue streams, city governments have done the right thing and recently renegotiated city manager contracts downward for both salaries and benefits, the grand jury reported. The grand jury report’s findings on compensation were sparked by a complaint in the fall of 2009 after Roseville City Manager Craig Robinson was suspended and then replaced. As stipulated in his contract, Robinson received a year’s salary and benefits totaling $393,675 as part of a buyout. The city subsequently hired Assistant City Manager Mike Shellito for $185,226 – the same salary he had previously earned at the lower-level post and with the same benefits package. The Robinson controversy led to the jury’s broader investigation into how municipalities within the county establish compensation levels for their senior executives and a report titled “The Delicate Art of Setting Salaries.” The report also analyzes whether salaries are competitive. That analysis showed the cost-of-living index for San Jose and San Francisco was about a third higher than Placer County. Comparing Roseville, San Francisco and San Jose using a weighted scale based on higher cost- of-living indexes in the Bay Area, Shellito’s $185,226 annual salary was in the middle of the range for the other two administrators. San Francisco City Administrator Edwin Lee’s annual salary penciled out on a weighted scale at $178,571 and San Jose City Manager Debra Figone earned $197,255. Figone’s actual salary is $260,376 a year while San Francisco pays Lee about $250,000 annually, according to the grand jury report. The report also looked at average city manager salaries, pegging Placer County towns and cities’ at $174,000, with benefits totaling an average of $79,323. Combining salary and benefits, total average compensation for administrators was $254,235. Comparatively, Bay Area cities with populations under 115,000 paid administrators an average of $216,792 in salaries and $25,536 in benefits, for total compensation of $242,328. David Allen, an Auburn refrigeration contractor, considered the compensation amounts being paid administrators while taking a break from making out an estimate and predicted Tuesday that they may not be going up again for some time because of the economy. “They’re not going to keep that up,” Allen said. “It seems all the public servants are raking it in and I’m convinced that the next one (manager) they hire will be making less.” Besides Shellito, the grand jury reported on salaries for top city and town administrators in the county: n Auburn City Manager Bob Richardson’s current salary is $132,371, with benefits of $32,783 and a car allowance of $4,800. The city’s population is 12,500 and the annual budget is $28.2 million. n Colfax’s part-time City Manager Bruce Kranz is paid $75,000 a year for 960 hours of work. He receives no benefits and can claim 55 cents a mile for vehicle use on city time. The city’s population is 1,750 and its annual budget is $8.52 million. n Lincoln City Manager James Estep receives $215,000 a year in salary, plus $8,400 annually as redevelopment agency director. He receives $64,623 in benefits and a car allowance of $8,400 a year. Lincoln has 37,410 residents and an annual budget of $46.2 million. n Rocklin City Manager Carlos Urrutia retired at the end of 2009, when his annual salary was $232,776. He has stayed on at a fixed annual stipend of $139,000, with no benefits, until a replacement is found. Combined with his retirement checks, Urrutia is collecting more than $300,000 a year, the report states. Urrutia also is given a $9,000 car allowance. Rocklin’s population is 54,754 and its annual budget is $61.2 million. n The Town of Loomis pays Manager Perry Beck $116,875 a year, plus $15,796 in benefits and a $3,600 car allowance. The town’s population is 6,300 and its budget is $3.2 million. City Councilman Bill Kirby of Auburn said that it’s no secret that Richardson is making less than his peers while providing quality leadership. “My advice to other cities is they can’t hire our manager,” Kirby said. The City Council has to weigh financial realities with the possibility that keeping a manager’s salary low could make it easier for other communities to lure a talented administrator like Richardson away for more money, Kirby said. “Obviously we realize it’s a risk that Bob may move on for a higher salary but in the meantime, we’re doing everything we can to satisfy his requirements,” Kirby said. Mayor Bridget Powers seconded Kirby’s assessment. “I wish we could pay him more but we can’t,” Powers said. “He does a good job and never complains about his salary.” The grand jury analysis concludes that city councils and managers in Placer County are to be commended for renegotiating reductions in compensation “to match the realities of the current economic environment” but comes with no recommendations. It does make a suggestion, however. “The grand jury anticipates that all municipalities will continue to adjust city and town manager salaries commensurate with that of other city and town employees,” it states.