CITY HALL — For 2012, the highest paid City Hall employees were City Manager Rod Gould, Assistant City Attorney Joseph Lawrence and City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.

The employees made $352,889, $295,243 and $294,878, respectively, according to city documents.

Rounding out the top five were Santa Monica Police Sgt. Jaime Hernandez and Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek with $293,264 and $283,312, respectively.

Other employees in the top 20 included Santa Monica Fire Department Chief Scott Ferguson (number seven with a salary of $256,207), and various police sergeants and fire captains or one engineer.

The breakdown includes base salary, special pays, cashouts and overtime, but does not include benefits, said Donna Peter, director of Human Resources at City Hall.

Peter was unable to provide total compensation, which would include medical and retirement benefits, as that information wasn’t readily available through City Hall’s finance systems.

Santa Monica has been posting its salaries online for the public for the past two years because of the Bell scandal, where numerous City Council members were paid higher than usual salaries and were eventually found guilty of stealing public money.

During the recession, there was a public outcry over public employee pensions and retirement benefits, which some argued were too lavish and posed serious threats to the state’s financial stability.

Now with the economy in an upswing, the intensity on salaries has lessened. Nonetheless, an examination of pay is something residents in Santa Monica have been calling for as Gould warns about pending budget deficits.

The majority of Santa Monica’s budget woes come more than two years down the line, with a huge increase in pension costs projected for the 2015-16 fiscal year as a result of changes announced by the California Public Employee Pension System, or CalPERS, city officials said back in May of this year.

The organization, which manages $257.4 billion in assets for governmental entities across the state, plans to increase employer contribution rates, settling on policies that will increase costs as much as 50 percent over the course of five years.

That will mean $5.8 million from the General Fund as soon as 2015-16, the first year of the next biennial budget, increasing to $18.1 million by the 2019-20 fiscal year.

At the same time, health care expenses are expected to increase 14 percent.

City officials said earlier this year that City Hall could be facing a budget deficit as much as $13.2 million by 2017-18.

That doomsday scenario is what lead to some residents calling for City Hall to cut the number of employees.

Santa Monica is number 15 on a list of the largest public sector employers, with 2,169 employees in 2012-13, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal. Based on the latest census data, that translates into 41.37 residents per employee. Pasadena, which has 139,00 residents, has fewer public employees, with 2,146.

Officials argue that Santa Monica is a dynamic city with its own airport, police and fire departments, public bus company, trash collection and recycling. It also provides a host of services residents have come to expect. All of that requires more workers. For instance, Santa Monica, a city of 8.3 square miles, has four libraries and is building another in the Pico Neighorhood. Those facilities need to be staffed.

“The city operates and looks like a small county,” Gould said. “Santa Monicans like to have a high level of service. … Put simply, Santa Monica does more than other cities … .”

A former city employee who worked for City Hall for eight years, and who didn’t want to be identified, said her main issue wasn’t so much with what the individual City Hall officials were making, but more the number of full-time employees.

“There wasn’t work for individuals to do, but there were 10 people who were doing one job,” she said.

The salary list may change based on any cost of living increases that went into effect July 1, Peter said. But that hasn’t been calculated in because they haven’t been completed in City Hall’s payroll system.

The assistant city attorney is one spot above the city attorney because he has a separate contract than Moutrie that includes some specialty pay, Peter said.

Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks isn’t on the list because she was hired in May 2012 and hasn’t had a full year salary with City Hall, Peter said.

Sgt. Hernandez is closer to the top of the list because of overtime pay.

Police officers and sergeants have the option to work overtime, while lieutenants, captains and the deputy chief don’t, said Matthew Rice, chairman of the Santa Monica Police Officers’ Association, the union that represents the rank and file.

The overtime budget for the police department has decreased from $8.1 million in fiscal year 2008-09 to $6.5 million in 2012-2013, or roughly 20 percent, Rice said.

The majority of police overtime is voluntary.

“It basically puts more officers to work when the city needs them,” Rice said.

It’s cheaper to pay for overtime than it is to hire new officers, who have to be recruited, trained, equipped and paid salary and benefits, Rice said.

Money that’s earned with overtime isn’t counted as salary when determining a retiree’s pension.

“Regardless of how much overtime a police employee works, there is no additional retirement cost to the city,” Rice said.

 

ameera@smdp.com

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