Are Rocklin's salaries too high?

Citizen, watchdog group want city to emulate private sector practices
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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How Rocklin stacks up with similar-sized cities

Population:  58,324  
City manager:  $198,000
City attorney:  $212,773
CFO: $136,620
Police chief:  $193,034
Fire chief:  $174,983
Public services director:  $130,113  
Community development director:  $136,620
Population: 59,220
City manager: $210,000
City attorney: $220,844
CFO:   $181,009  
Police chief: N/A
Fire chief: N/A
Public services director: $175,898  
Community development director: $170,150
Population:     55,646   
City manager: $188,000
City attorney:   $197,134
CFO:  $99,262
Police chief:  $169,726
Fire chief:   $154,788
Public services director:  $152,539  
Community development director:    $148,417
Population: 73,001 
City manager:   $201,420
City attorney:   N/A
CFO:   $159,600
Police chief:   $179,000
Fire chief:     $168,000
Public services director:   $151,756
Community development director:   $147,794
Sources: Cupertino, Rocklin, Woodland, Folsom

During the campaign, as City Council candidates stopped by the door of Rocklin resident Bill Harrer, his No. 1 question was about city salaries.

“It is a concern that I have,” Harrer said. “We keep seeing more and more of these salaries hitting over $100,000, and their pensions as well when they retire.”
The city reports that 61.97 percent of its fiscal year budget goes to compensation. That number is down from 65 percent last fiscal year, according to City Manager Rick Horst.
The Placer Herald compared the salary amount for senior staff with other California cities with similar populations or like services, such as the same number of police staff or number of fire stations.
Rocklin’s senior city staff includes the city manager, city attorney, chief financial officer, police and fire chiefs, as well as the director of public services and director of community development.
The city of Woodland in Yolo County has a similar population and staffing levels; however, Rocklin’s salaries are up to 27 percent higher than Woodland’s. Most notably, the CFO in Woodland makes $99,262 compared to Rocklin’s $136,620. However, Rocklin’s directors of Public Services and Community Development make $12,000 less.
Rocklin city officials took a study trip to Folsom last year and consider Folsom a model for Rocklin on various levels. Folsom’s population is larger by 14,000 people, but it has a similar staff make-up. Folsom had 5-14 percent higher salaries than Rocklin.
Folsom’s city manager makes $3,420 more than Rocklin’s. However, Horst is eligible for a raise on his $198,000 salary in February. Rocklin City Attorney Russell Hildebrand’s $212,773 salary cant’s be compared with Folsom because Folsom doesn’t have a staff attorney, opting to contract out legal needs, according to Folsom officials.
On population alone, Rocklin mirrors the city of Cupertino, but its salaries trail the Bay Area city in every category. Rocklin’s city manager makes $12,000 less, city attorney $8,000 less and Rocklin’s CFO makes 24 percent less than Cupertino’s. The biggest gap is the director of Public Services, with a 26 percent difference, along with Rocklin’s director of community development, who made 20 percent less. Cupertino has a higher average household in-come and does not maintain a city police and fire department.
Rocklin’s Public Affairs and Economic Growth Manager Karen Garner said it’s difficult to evaluate Rocklin’s salaries in comparison to other cities.
“When filling a position, like any business, there is rarely an apples-to-apples comparison for either the scope of the position or the salary,” Garner said.
City officials have said they want salaries to be competitive with other cities so they can compete for talent. Harrer said the city can take a lesson from private industry.
“They will cite things like we have to be competitive, but if you look at private industry right now they are saying they don’t have to give out raises because of the unemployment rate,” Harrer said. “I would like some of these positions compared to private industry. You could compare CFOs to a like-sized private company.”
Garner said the city looks at the competition of skill set with the private sector, as nearly a dozen factors determine salary. They also include the needs of the city, experience of the candidate, supply and demand for skill set as well as the service level expectations of citizens.
Marcia Fritz, president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, said the city should try to attract talent with interesting work, opportunities for advancement, flexible hours, medical benefits and, lastly, pay.
“If the city isn’t successful in attracting an abundance of applicants with pay and benefits comparable to private employers nearby, they are doing something seriously wrong,” she said. “Anyone can overpay to get a position filled. It takes talent and effort to fill a position paying competitive wage and benefits. The citizens of Rocklin should demand effort.”
Now that the campaign is over, Harrer wonders if salaries will ever be addressed.
“People can’t afford this pension payroll,” he said. “We’re kicking the can down the road.”