Richmond city workers salaries outpace resident’s income
on December 6, 2014
City workers earned a median salary of about $100,000 last year, almost double the median household income of Richmond residents, according to figures provided by the City Attorney’s office.
Of the city’s full-time employees, 346 – more than half of all workers – surpassed the six-figure mark. The median household income in Richmond is $54,000.
At the top of the list was Angel Bobo, a fire captain, who earned $426,302 last year. Bobo made the biggest bucks in part by drawing $312,410 in overtime and other special pay.
Bobo was joined at the top by his colleagues, including Fire Captain Marc Palechek ($377,888), Fire Captain Daniel Linstad ($338,013), Fire Captain Linsy Mayo ($319,026) and Fire Captain John Wade ($298,928). Nine of the top 10 richest earners in the city were firefighters.
The hefty pay for public safety employees is no surprise to economists and others who have monitored municipal pay in California.
“Firefighters and police have been really well paid,” said Richard Walker, an economic and urban geography professor at the University of California Berkeley.
Firefighters and police earned an average of $145,000 last year compared to $85,000 for their nonpublic safety employees.
The money Bobo earned in overtime alone last year exceeded the sticker price on a 2014 Rolls Royce Ghost, but fire officials say he earned every penny in service to the city.
“We’re a very busy department,” Fire Chief Michael Banks said. “It’s always a balancing act to have enough bodies each and everyday to staff the fire stations.”
Of the top 100 city salaries, 92 were firefighters or police. Of the top 34 salaries, City Manager Bill Lindsay was the only one without a badge or a fire helmet.
Training, staffing and injuries were the main reasons a dozen firefighters were paid more than $100,000 in overtime last year, Banks said in a telephone interview.
But negotiation tactics by powerful unions might have played an even bigger role, Walker said.
The unions “have been very militant in supporting their own interest, often against the general communities interest and the interest of budgetary sanity,” Walker said. “It undermines the argument for good public salaries when some groups of management, police and fire, are getting exorbitant salaries that are out of proportion for what they deserve.”
“Other pay” for police officers can include longevity pay, educational incentives and extra money earned for working the graveyard shift, according to police Lt. Andre Hill.
Officers can earn overtime when a serious crime occurs and extra manpower is needed or during public events such as one of the city’s street festivals.
“Homicide is one of the few crimes that we can exhaust all possibilities,” Hill said.
But special events also cost a pretty penny. Richmond plays host to many ethnic events throughout the year, a policy that is popular within the community. But the lively events and big crowds require police, and they get paid extra to be there.
On the final day of the annual Cinco de Mayo festival as many as 30 officers may be needed to staff the event, according to Hill. Many are paid overtime wages. The event attracts about 10,000 people.
Most of the high salaries and overtime pay goes out to other cities, where the officers and firefighters live. About 10 officers out of 190 live in the city, according to Hill.
In an effort to boost the local tax base and economy some cities across the country have considered residency requirements for police and fire.
“Richmond has a lot of crime problems that are not the fault of the police,” Walker said. But “police use that to get a more favorable pay and then they take the money and leave. That’s not a great way to do community policing. “
And despite the high salaries of some city workers, economists argue an even greater problem underlies the disparity.
Over the last 30 years, wages for most private sector workers have been stagnant. About a third of Bay Area workers earn minimum wage.
“Public workers seem to be so disproportionately well paid (in part) because everyone else is so badly paid,” Walker said.
With the city facing a $7 million deficit and a growing gap in wages, questions are being raised about the discrepancy in pay scale among the city workers.
“It’s time for (public safety unions) to step up and take pay cuts,” newly-elected councilman Eduardo Martinez said.
Police and fire pensions contribute to the city’s deficit Martinez said.
And economists agree.
“A lot of these retirement obligations on local city governments have spiraled out of control,“ Walker said.
But any effort to cut police or firefighter salaries and pensions will likely be met by stout opposition from their unions.
“These tend to be the most favored workers other than top administrators in every local government,” Walker said. “They generate a lot of public support because there is a lot of panic about crime and fires.”
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