'Outrageous' city pay has resident concerned

City manager, council member stress reform measures
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Recent reports about Rocklin’s perceived high salaries and last year’s controversy over pension spiking and excessive leave payouts had Angela Torrens concerned.
But when the Rocklin resident pulled up the California State Controller’s office website reporting Local Government Compensation, she was appalled at Rocklin city official’s salaries.
“The salaries for management are outrageous for a city the size of Rocklin,” Torrens said. “We can’t live within our means by paying higher salaries. The lucrative times are gone.”
The site identifies job classifications from police, fire and city staff and how much their salary and benefits were costing taxpayers. For example, the website identified the City Manager with a salary of $395,688 and the employee’s share of pension contributions at $16,563. The reported maximum salary for that position was $232,780.
However, last year 25 years of unused vacation and sick leave was paid out to former City Manager Carlos Urrutia when he retired, which put the salary over the top. Some reported salaries for individuals no longer with the city of Rocklin include: the Police Chief at $258,831, Chief Building Official at $213,215 and the Director of Community Development at $272,310. Council member Scott Yuill stressed the data released on the website dates back to 2009, adding the city is now on the right track.
“The report represented the information as though those figures are ongoing. They are not,” Yuill said. “The unlimited accrual of sick and vacation pay has been eliminated in the new city manager’s contract.”
For comparison, the new City Manager Rick Horst, who was hired in February, makes $198,000 and makes his own contribution to the pension plan. His salary is also frozen for two years.
“In the past, a trend has evolved where many municipalities have agreed to pay the employees’ portions of PERS, including Rocklin. Rick is taking the first steps to reverse that trend,” Yuill said.
Right now Rocklin pays $3.5 million in pension contributions to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, however, making employees pay their own contribution to CalPERS may reduce the annual liability. During the Great Recession, the city has been dipping into reserves, including a projected $840,000 figure for next fiscal year, to cover expenses that have not kept up with its revenues.
Citizens can expect the elimination of summer swim lessons and a continuation of furlough Fridays for city staff.
The city has also eliminated assistant city manager positions and reorganized police staff.
“Eighty-five percent of our budget is personnel costs,” Horst told the city council on June 7. “We cut two-thirds of the personnel costs, which allow us to have greater operating funds which are essential at the end of the day.”
This year the city had $1.18-million in salary changes due to attrition and other cuts. For the first time, a committee composed of senior staff met last Tuesday to discuss pension reform and present actionable reform ideas to the city council for approval. According to Horst, the committee, which does not include any representation from the city’s union, is expected to consider lower benefits for employees, including public safety employees.
Right now, employees are offered a pension formula of 3-percent at age 50, but that could change to 3-percent at age 55. General staff could move to age 60.
That means when employees decide to retire, they could get a pension equal to 3 percent of the employee’s highest year’s pay multiplied by their service years. For example, a Rocklin firefighter with 20-years of service who made $80,00per year salary, at age 50 would receive a $48,000-per-year pension from CalPERS. The Rocklin fire union recently agreed to delay raises for another year, but has not agreed to any other concessions.
Among other ideas, Horst wants the city to safeguard against pension spiking by targeting pensionable salary earnings that are not part of base salary, such as a car allowance, leave payouts and other executive benefits.
After Torrens found out about cost-saving measures underway at the city she felt relieved, but admits she is still skeptical.
“Good,” Torrens said. “After the exposure they have no way to turn but reform.”
City Council members are expected to review the committee’s ideas for pension reform in August. Any changes to proposed benefits would then have to be presented to the city’s unions for ratification.
Rocklin Management Salaries
* City Manager: $198,000
* Police Chief: $164,340 Fire Chief: $175,670
City Clerk: $85,172
Chief Fin. Officer: $133,240
Director of Administrative Services.: $175,175 2009
• Wages subject to Medicare
Source: California State Controller’s Office
*2011 salary source: City of Rocklin