Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

A recent report on Santa Monica public employee salaries found unelected city leaders are among the best paid in the area. The report from Moss Adams found the city’s senior leadership makes about 15 percent more than the median when compared among peers – an average of $215,000 a year compared to $188,000 per year.

Nearly two years after Santa Monica’s public employee salaries made headlines and irked residents, an independent agency has completed an exhaustive analysis of city compensation packages. The City Council will review the 150-page report from accounting, consulting and wealth management firm Moss Adams at their Tuesday night public meeting.

The report says the city should implement a formal compensation philosophy to guide labor negotiations, set expectations and ensure market competitiveness.

While the top positions made more, the report found Santa Monica’s average wages ranked seventh among eleven peer cities, averaging $103,844 a year. That number includes regular pay and overtime, but excludes health benefits and retirement costs. The study compared Santa Monica with Anaheim, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, El Segundo, Glendale, Inglewood, Pasadena, Redondo Beach, Santa Barbara and Torrance.

Out of all the cities, Santa Monica had the most employees

“Similar to peers, tenure at the City tends to be long with 77 percent of employees being paid within ten percent of the top salary step for the position,” the report said. The report found the City’s overall unfunded pension liability is high but similar to peer cities. Medical insurance costs have also risen steeply in recent years.

The City’s annual operating budget in FY 2017 was $508 million, with employee expenses of $332 million. The largest sources of city revenue were fees (30 percent), sales tax (15 percent), and hotel taxes (8 percent).

A KCBS report on city salaries in November, 2016, sparked local fury over compensation in Santa Monica. The report used data provided by Transparent California to compare the total compensation package for Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks, about $480,000, with LAPD’s Chief Charlie Beck’s base salary of $344,000. City Manager Rick Cole has repeatedly criticized the information provided by the self-described government watchdog.

“The headline grabber was an erroneous claim that our Police Chief earned more than the Police Chief in Los Angeles (never retracted, no apology from the right-wing, anti-union think tank based in Nevada that uses “Transparent California” as a front.),” Cole wrote in a May 4 email to city staff obtained by the Daily Press.

Cole described the findings from Moss Adams as “hardly startling.” He plans to address the report in front of city staff Tuesday morning at an “All Hands” meeting in Council Chambers.

“Santa Monica pays on the high side of comparable cities. It also has a wider scope of services, higher workload and a reputation for being a leader in innovation,” Cole said. “The study also suggests that our productivity ranks in the middle of the pack.”

The report says Santa Monica delivers a variety of services beyond the expectations for a typical city: running an airport, The Pier, a cemetery, public Wi-Fi and broadband, a regional bus service, as well as various community programs and initiatives to advance progressive causes like sustainability.

The City Council will meet Tuesday, May 8 inside City Hall Council Chambers at 1685 Main Street, Room 213. Public items will be heard no earlier than 6:30 p.m.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press