David Zepeda’s column in your March 4 issue served to remind us of the burden imposed upon Santa Monica residents by the high cost of our city employees.

Are Santa Monica residents paying excessively for city employees? According to information found on the transparent.california.com website, the total compensation cost for Santa Monica city employees came in at $266.4 million in 2013. That breaks down to $5,610 for each household in Santa Monica, compared to $3,870 in Pasadena and $3,550 in Santa Barbara.

Santa Monica seems to require more city employees than either of these two comparable cities. We had 2,765 people on payroll in that year, representing 30.5 city employees for each 1,000 residents. Pasadena and Santa Barbara operated with ratios of only 17.5 and 22.6, respectively.

Santa Monica also appears to be quite generous with employee compensation. Our city manager in 2013 was paid $366,684 ($483,954, including benefits); by comparison, Pasadena’s city manager was paid $277,854. We paid $324,884 to our city attorney; Pasadena paid $233,351. The next 10 highest-paid employees on payroll cost Santa Monica $3.83 million, including pay and benefits; total payroll cost for Pasadena’s next 10: $2.89 million.

How did we get into this lofty position? Who has approved city staffing levels and the Wall Street-like compensation arrangements to put this burden on residents? More importantly, how can we climb down to more reasonable levels?

According to the latest Santa Monica city budget, two-thirds of General Fund revenues are used to cover employee compensation costs, an amount equivalent to all local taxes collected by the City. The savings that could be made by reducing employee costs to Pasadena levels, for example, would amount to around $83 million yearly. These savings in turn would enable a 40-percent reduction in the need for local taxes without affecting other programs.

Rather than just raise taxes or fees to cover rising budget costs, perhaps City Council should begin to share these burdens by making corresponding reductions to its budget for city employees.

Faustino Garza
Santa Monica

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