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Sounding Off:

City employee salaries remain a threat

May 28, 2009|By John Heffernan

We all know about Chrysler’s bankruptcy and GM’s staggering legacy retirement and health-care costs that have them on the ledge of insolvency.

What we don’t know is that future California taxpayers face the same kind of crisis — a potential catastrophic reduction in services and/or a staggering tax hike — because of skyrocketing public employee salaries and retirement benefits.

In apparent disregard of the most significant economic crisis since the Great Depression, elected officials are approving increases in salaries and benefits that threaten local economies, jeopardize service levels and create a legacy of astronomic retirement benefits funded by the Public Employee Retirement System.

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You need look no further than Newport Beach to find compelling evidence of this threat. When I was sworn in as a Newport Beach City Council member in December 2000, the chief of police made $166,160 in salary and benefits.

Eight years later, the chief is paid $322,575 in total compensation ($212,410 in salary and $110,165 in benefits — almost 52% of salary).

At this rate, in eight more years the Newport Beach police chief will be costing more than $625,000.

During the same period the total operating budget in Newport Beach increased by nearly 80% — $104,283,075 to $187,547,385; total salaries and benefits increased more than 84% — $65,189,590 to $119,973,130; and the total city budget increased by almost 85% to $258,470,035.

There are other current total compensation examples: fire chief: $296,650; city manager: $290,220; library director: $198,795; three police captains: average: $268,340; 66 police patrol officers: average: $148,330; public works director: $218,075 and 31 fire captains: average: $162,390 — and all fire and safety amounts do not include almost $4 million of overtime for 2008-09.

How can local elected officials consent to these salaries and benefits when sales-tax revenues are declining, property values are declining, the private (taxpaying) sector is under such stress and California unemployment exceeds 11.5%?


JOHN HEFFERNAN is a former mayor of Newport Beach. He lives in the city.

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