(photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Santa Monica municipal employees received $1.4 million in performance-based bonuses for the fiscal year that ended in June, a big increase from the $291,000 they received the prior year but far less than the amounts they grew accustomed to before the current recession hit.

In 2007-08, for example, employees received more than $2.2 million in bonuses, according to City Hall records provided to the Daily Press.

The sharp decline in bonuses during the 2008-09 fiscal year came after former City Manager Lamont Ewell, faced with a projected multi-million dollar budget gap, reached an agreement with most eligible employee groups to forego bonuses but exempted the City Attorney’s Office from the arrangement.

The $1.4 million payout for the 2009-2010 fiscal year was in keeping with an announcement from City Manager Rod Gould last June that he would consider awarding bonuses to all eligible employees but would reduce the bonus pool in light of continuing budget concerns.

With recent financial projections showing a deficit that could top $30 million in the next five years, Gould has called for belt tightening at City Hall departments and backed measures to increase revenue, including a half percent sales tax that voters approved in November and fee increases for a range of city services and programs.

In a statement e-mailed to the Daily Press last week, Gould argued his bonus policy struck the proper balance between appropriately rewarding employees who are entitled to bonus consideration under their contracts and helping reign in City Hall’s expenses.

“We think the great majority of employees recognize how fortunate we are to have avoided layoffs and furloughs, which other cities have not been able to do,” he said. “City employees recognize that these are difficult economic times.”

Martha Santana, the president of the Santa Monica Municipal Employees Association, could not be reached for comment.

Of the top 20 bonus recipients in 2009-10, 13 are lawyers in the City Attorney’s Office. The biggest bonus, $19,969.20, went to Deputy City Attorney Lance Gams. Non-attorneys who received top-20 bonuses include Police Chief Tim Jackman ($10,251.60), Housing and Economic Development Director Andy Agle ($8,439), Finance Director Carol Swindell ($8,738.40) and Planning Director Eileen Fogarty ($9,433.20).

nickt@www.smdp.com

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