$100,000+ Earnings Abound in City Workforce

Fire fighters dominate top pay tiers

Are San Diego city employees overpaid?  A reform-minded councilman thinks so.

He's circulating a list of municipal earnings that topped $100,000 last year.  It includes one out of every eight city workers.

"This is San Diego city government's version of the Wall Street excesses," says Councilman Carl DeMaio, who began calling attention to city worker salaries six years ago when his nonprofit Performance Institute began watchdogging local government.

The 2008 list is 44 percent longer than the earnings list for 2007.  Nearly 80 percent of the 1200+ people on it work in public safety.
High-ranking fire fighters dominate the top tiers.  Twenty-two of them made more than their chief's pay, which was $165,000.

"We work a 56-hour work week," says Frank De Clercq, vice president of San Diego City Fire Fighters Local 145. "There's times when people work twice that."

With base pay and overtime, more than 400 of San Diego's 940 fire fighters made upwards of $100,000 last year.

But by national standards, the department is understaffed -- with half the members, per capita, than San Francisco's fire department, which covers an area one-fifth the size of San Diego.

Paying overtime is cheaper than new personnel costs, and overtime doesn't count toward a fire fighter's highest base pay for retirement benefits.

"It's hard work, they have to go out of town," DeClercq pointed out. "We have to support each other in Northern California, or those national incidents. And the majority of it is reimbursed back to the city."

While putting a harsh spotlight on the higher-end earnings of city workers, DeMaio insists he's not trying to demonize fire fighters or police officers -- whose paychecks also add up to big numbers.

DeMaio  says he's just trying to challenge the claim by city workers in general that they're underpaid.

"The data suggests otherwise," DeMaio said in an interview Wednesday. "The data suggests the salaries are going up. Compensation is jumping pretty dramatically year-to-year. And yet we have a budget crisis."

Taxpayer advocates want the mayor and council to hold the line, or even seek rollbacks in employee salaries.

"There is no reason why they can't ask the unions to do their part like the rest of us who are experiencing this horrible economy," said Lani Lutar, executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

"(We're) having to reduce our expenditures at home. Government should be expected to do the same."

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