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SPECIAL REPORT: City salaries, plus benefits

Submitted by on 1, May 4, 2009 – 6:00 am28 Comments

7In case you missed it, this past Friday I posted a spreadsheet listing the gross pay for every employee in the City of Alameda for 2008. Well, a few naps and four additional hours of data entry later, I’ve got a new ‘sheet that includes pay plus benefits.

The city spent $19.3 million on medical and retirement benefits in 2008, about $11 million of that in contributions to its employees’ PERS retirement plans. If my spreadsheet wizardry is right (and mind you, I am still recovering from the other night), around $7.3 million of the retirement contributions went to the city’s 258 public safety employees, who got an average of $28,370.29 in retirement contributions last year. (By contrast, our 401 non-public safety employees netted an average of $9,225.61 in retirement contributions from the city in 2008.)

I could talk about What It All Means, but I’ll leave that up to you all. In the meantime, here are our numbers:

Employees: 659 (401 non-public safety, 258 public safety)

Total gross pay: $60.4 million

Salaries over $100k: 269

Overtime: $3.6 million

Total benefits (including medical and PERS): $19.3 million

PERS only: $11 million

Total 2008 pay plus benefits: $79.7 million


  • Neal_J says:

    I wonder what it feels like to have your employer contribute anwhere from 16% to 30% of your annual salary to your retirement plan on your behalf.

    Like most working stiffs with a 401(k), I personally wouldn’t know….

  • Tim says:

    Thank for posting this ……… ridiculous the amount of money going to the 5 top police……… and firefighters ……

  • RM says:

    Showed this to some secretaries…they want to apply with the city.

    This was very informative. Thanks, Michele.

    p.s. You should get a raise.

  • DK says:

    As a BUSD employee I have 7% contributed to PERS retirement. Unfortunately for me, that 7% is deducted from my paycheck. Are the numbers cited above possibly representing a combined employee / employer contributions? Do they also reflect PERS retirement AND PERS related health benefits? ARE they accurate, is there a way to check to see that these amounts were actually deposited with PERS for the employees listed? Off the cuff, they seem incredibly high percentages.

    • Those are interesting questions and I’d have to check to get the answers. If you want, I can forward the PDF the city sent me. (I tried to post it but couldn’t figure out how to get a good, readable copy online for folks to view.) On the PDF, the item is listed as “PERS EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTION.”

  • Mindy says:

    Can we really afford firefighters and police officers who cost us more than $200,000 a year? When government workers make so much more than the average resident, something is tragically wrong with the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed.

  • A. NonaMouse says:

    Do the benefits reported include the retiree medical benefit as well as the current employee benefit?

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    I would have to agree with Neal_J—those contributions seem MORE THAN GENEROUS! Are there any job openings with the city? Oh, I forgot, Wednesday is the day Ms. Gallant hands out the bad news…

  • Susan says:

    It appears that a portion of the P.E.R.S. employer contribution does go toward health benefits. From a January 2008 Police Officer recruit bulletin:


    "HEALTH & LIFE INSURANCE: A choice of P.E.R.S. health plans for which the City pays a significant portion of the premium

    for you and your family. A $50,000 group life insurance policy is provided at no cost."

  • Michael says:

    I think these salaries are ridiculous. These people make more money per year than doctors: http://www.forbes.com/2009/05/04/america-best-pay

    It's no wonder why our town is in a budget crises. I'll bet the majority of the island's residents don't make as much money as our city officials. Ridiculous!

    It makes me sick to my stomach.

  • Neal_J says:

    Having now looked at the PDF, the PERS pension contribution is additive to the City-paid health and welfare benefits.

    What's also amazing is the myriad of additional types of compensation beyond salary (e.g., overtime, acting pay, specialty pay, paid leave of absence, floater holiday pay, auto allowance, deferred compensation, management incentive pay, retention pay (WTH?), holiday pay, uniform & equipment allowance, paramedic pay, education incentive, housing allowance, flexible benefits plan, health & welfare, PERS contribution & employer payroll taxes).

    Wow, I really should look for a job at the City.

  • Kevin says:

    I have a question….where do these numbers come from? Why is it that when I add the numbers across, they don't add up to the total? Also, all of you that are angry over the salaries of the public safety employees, I ask you this, are you willing to put your life on the line day in and day out for your pay, and if so, how much is that worth to you? Ask the families of Earv Romans, Dan Sakai, Mark Dunakin, and John Hege if the salaries they earned during their career offset the loss of their lives…..I'd say that it didn't. Next time APD or AFD is hiring, I encourage you to apply and see if you can do the job.

    • Hi Kevin,

      I received these numbers from the city's human resources department. And just to clarify why they don't add, it's because these are highlights from the PDF docs the city sent. On the pay side, they do not include additional pay amounts for paramedic training, retention pay, etc. On the benefits side, I did not include numbers for health & welfare and Medicare. I do have the full PDF for anyone who wants to check it out (I tried to post it bout couldn't get it up in a readable format). Hope that helps.

  • Neal_J says:

    Kevin: Yes, the work that police & fire do is valuable to society but that does not mean they should be paid on average over $150,000.

    As to the spreadsheet, I will give you one example. Take a "Fire Apparatus Operator" that has a salary of $100,308. Add to that $48,366 in overtime, $1,493 in overtime, $5,014 in holiday pay, $860 of uniform allowance, $3,685 of paramedic pay for total gross earnings of $159,726. Continue to add $16,713 for health benefits, $33,411 of pension contribution (>20%!) for a grand total of $209,851.

    Not too shabby for a fireman and congrats to his union negotiators. However, this is totally out of line with the rest of society and unsustainable for a city with little cash in the till.

  • Sarah says:

    Is anyone paying attention to what is going on in the Police Department? Have you noticed that there are no checks and balances? The chief is as effective as overcooked pasta, and the command staff behave like beheaded chickens. When is the city council going to get humpty dumpty off the wall?

    • Joel says:

      I will disagree with you on the effectiveness of the APD just look at the crime data , City of Alameda 1 murder {passion} city of oakland 1 bridge away close to 100 …..type the search oaklna crime data , then do it for Alameda. plain and simple and yes I had my sdhare of speeding ticket , in retrospect I deserve most of them.
      The best for last Oakland PD response time up to 3 hours , Alameda PD 5 minutes in the very worste case.
      Oakland is looking for pioneer to populate the house that have been repo some have been on the market over 4 years I am sure the bank will make a deal , don’t forget your bullet proof jacket , buy a pit bull ,stop by the hardware store to get some bars on your window lots of them as well as lock for your water hose,buy yourself a gun and you are ready, please don’t let the bridge hit you on your way out , we will really miss you , or maybe not.

  • Kevin says:

    Ok Neal, since you seem to have the opinion that the Fire Apparatus Operator makes too much money, why don't you tell us how much he or she should make. And while you are at it, why don't you decide how much the Police Officer and the Fire Fighter should make too. You are absolutely correct when you say congrats to the union negotiators. Let us not forget that it is not the police officer or the fire fighter who decided how much money the city was going to pay them, but the city that approved these salaries. So don't bash the city employee, the Police Officer or the Fire Fighter, or how about the Park and Rec Supervisor who makes over 223,000 a year. Or the Library Director who makes more than 198,000, the Golf Course Maint. Supervisor who makes over 131,000, or the Traffic Signal Maint. Tech who makes over 123,000. Do you think a Public Safety Dispatcher should make over 101,000, or a Data Tech. should make over 107,000? How about Golf Course and Park Maint. Team Leader who makes more than 99,000, or the City Clerk who makes 155,000. My point is it seems to me that most readers of this article are bashing the Fire Fighters and the Police Officers for the money they make, while not even balking at some of these other salaries. I will agree that much of the overtime is troubling, but again, that is a result of the mismanaged city and the people who the citizens elected to run the city doing the mismanaging. So Neal, when you see a Fire Fighter or a Police Officer, don't forget to thank them for what they do while you are bashing what they earn, and don't forget to thank your city government for creating this problem. By the way, I noticed the Mayor and City Councilmembers were left off this list….why is that? Are they hiding something….again.

  • Lauren Do says:

    The Mayor and City Council aren't salaried employees, they get a stipend for meetings attended.

  • Mark says:


    On the cost of overtime, is that a product of City mismanagement? My understanding has been that the benefits packages for full time employees are so expensive that it's actually cheaper to pay overtime than to hire more full time employees. So the wisdom here would be that it's good fiscal management. In terms of who people are choosing to bash, the Park and Rec employees are not pushing a ballot initiative for full staffing. Those other salaries you site are all management, the fire department appears to have the highest numbers of employees getting over $100,000 before overtime.

    The fire fighter's ballot initiative campaign is running with the slogan "It's a Burning Issue" which to me is a somewhat disingenuous, some might say a scare tactic, since in fact it's more like a response time issue and mostly related to emergency as opposed to life threatening fires. Under 40 house fires a year and something like 650 non-fire emergency calls a year, if memory serves me which it may not. One petition gathering fire fighter told me it was 9000 emergency responses a year, but the math on that is 24.6 responses a day, so we had some failure of communication. I'm opposed to putting staffing ratios into law. If there is a budget crunch, the Council should be the one to decide how to balance public safety and other budgetary challenges.

    The ratio of times a fire fighter puts their life on the line differs from city to city. This is not Detroit, NYC or even Oakland for that matter. When and what was the last major injury to an Alameda fire fighter?

    Teachers are also public employees who pay into PERS, but in AUSD they pay 2/3 of their health insurance "benefit" out of their own salary, about $800 a month for most, which ten grand a year out of salaries which average $60,000 and start far below. Fire fighters get full health benefits in retirement for life, correct? Teachers get a portion of health paid in retirement until they turn 65 and go to Medicaid. Presumably the daily risk to life for a fire fighter in retirement is drastically reduced over the working years. I know the budgets and funding streams for these professions are separate in Alameda, but rhetorically I have to ask if teachers have to be at risk of assault by students on a daily basis to be compensated at a rate which begins to approach a fire fighter?

  • Mindy says:

    What do our troops serving overseas get paid?

  • alameda says:

    The base pay of a private with one year of service is $15,480 a year, according to Department of Defense military pay rates.


    With more than 36 years of service, Franks earns an annual base pay of $153, 948. That's the yearly salary for commissioned officers at the highest pay grade with more than 26 years of service, according to the Department of Defense basic pay scale.

  • Kevin says:

    Mark, I'm trying not to read between the lines of your post but can't help it. So I will ask you to respond to these questions. Are you saying that a Fire Fighter or a Police Officer should be compensated based on how dangerous the city is, how many times they put their lifes on the line, or if they have a history of serious injuries? How about pay based on keeping the crime rate down and when a major crime occurs, solving it. Or because the Fire Fighters don't get injured because of their high level of training and experience. You mention Detroit, NYC, and Oakland. Do you know what the salaries are for these departments? Just curious? I believe that industry wide, California public safety employees earn more than their peers in other states. But also, public safety employees in this state are believed to be the best. This is how I feel, when the economy is booming, and most everyone is fat and happy, and private industry is living high on the hog, with the employees enjoying pay and bonuses that are lucrative because the economy is great, then those people are not concerned with the pay of the city employees. And, those city employees are out there making Alameda the great place it is for all of us to live and feel safe and raise our families, earning the government pay that probably doesn't come close to what many private sector employees can earn in great economic times. And so in addition to the pay, which I understand is lower than most other cities in Alameda County, these great benefit packages are added to sweeten the deal. I, for one, think it is worth it. Worth it to keep the quality of life we have here in Alameda, to retain the great city employees we have here rather than lose them to a neighboring city who will pay them more, and those cities are out there. If you would rather move to Detroit or NYC, where no doubt, public safety employees are paid less than the ones here (I didn't include Oakland because I think their salaries on the whole are comparable, even a little better than Alameda) but the crime rate is high and the city is dangerous, then go for it. Keep in mind you will need to install security screens on your doors and windows. Good luck.

  • David Kirwin says:

    Seems not too long ago we were hearing a song and dance about the need for more tax-subsidized re-development because the housing costs were too high to be affordable for our public safety workers, and massive development was needed to reduce demand and lower Alameda housing costs.

    I wonder why anyone could believe that, and now the idea of needing more housing for ‘affordability’ by city safety workers is dead wrong.

    BTW, I don't think anyone would bash the police and fire workers, and we have to congratulate their union reps who have certainly earned their keep.

    It is the management of the city, the city negotiating team, the city management staff who recommended to approve the contracts, and the CC for that approval that deserve the blame for escalating all the top city salaries way beyond reason. Once done this is hard to un-do. It is a longer process to whittle salaries to a reasonable range, not just an over-night stamp of approval.

    I thank Michele for bringing this to the attention of her readers. Citizens have to learn how the City is using our money. No other city news source took this first step and this is a problem that has gone on a long time. City's HR has some major problems – and it has come to light. Reportedly, one city worker told an acquaintance that in 13 years of City employment they had never had a work review. Think about what that means.

    I hope the City “Fiscal Sustainability” Committee will daylight the city budget in a ‘readable’ way.

  • K. Sanderberg says:

    Public Safety personnel in much more active jurisdictions than Alameda don't come close to the salary/benefit package that Alameda gets.

    What more ridiculous is that the city is funding benefits for dependents of retirees for life who have never served the city. Does anyone actually read the contracts that HR negotiates prior to ratifying them?

  • Moe says:

    Kudos to Michelle for assembling this spreadsheet. Several well thought out comments about salaries and benefits. One comment strikes me as a bit odd and personal. Why is Sarah attacking the police chief and his command staff? This report is about the entire city and how the city spends money. Does Sarah think that if the knock "Humpty Dumpty" off the wall that all the kings men ( and ladies too) will be able to put the city back together again? I think Sarah has a bone to pick with the police department…

  • Mike says:

    I find it hard to blame any one group for these seemingly high earnings. Some annual salaries seem high but they are budgeted for those amounts. Whats shocking to me is the OT. I understand that both police and fire are understaffed and have been for some time and that both departments have pleaded with the city to hire more and fill those positions to no avail. Because the city chooses not to hire, the departments have to pay OT to an off duty person to fullful that shifts needs. I dont feel that any public safety person or city employee should be looked at different or frowned upon just because they agreed to answer the call and work when their dept requested. Why would anyone blame the employee?? Thats not their fault.

    The city thought that it would save money by not filling the staffing requirements requested by the unions, but that seemed to have backfired judging by the OT amounts.

    I dont feel that the answer for this budget crisis is an easy one. It will take some tough decisions. I dont see how public safety can be excluded from cuts or reorganizing when roughly 70% of the budget goes to public safety. I think police and fire very important and they do a good job anwering the calls here in Alameda, however, I dont feel that theyre wages should be in the same league as Oakland police and fire. Thats nothing against them, but lets be honest, Oakland police and fire have a much tougher city to deal with, statistically speaking. I would think that life insurance premiums would be higher in oakland as well.
    Another issue I have is the 3% PERS retirement @50. Thats a huge amount for the city to pay and it really isnt fair. Im not sure if the city has much say in changing that since it seems like a statewide deal for public safety, which is too bad. I mean thats at least 15% more retirement than a military soldier would get after 30yrs of serving and god knows how many tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention years away from home. Thats just not right.

  • Dee says:

    How about doing something about the $2.2million in Fire dept OT? Cut out OT and hire a few more firefighters for a savings of more than $1million.

  • lore says:

    The salaries of public safety officers and especially their retirements are simply not sustainable. Every city in California, especially older cities, are going through the same problem. Citizens, and city councils were anxious to reward safety officers for their grueling work and often their heroism. Frankly the safety officers should be compensated beyond a person who does not have the same type of job. However, the devil is in the details. Should detective pull down almost 200,000k per year? And should she/he retire with 80-90%salary often before age 6o? These are not sustainable and especially when we are in a downturn. Reasonable people need to resolve this before a city goes bankrupt and then all contracts can be voided often disastrously.

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