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Rocklin’s cost per employee: $123,928

Despite recessionary cuts, reforms, personnel costs continue to rise
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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Despite very public reforms, layoffs and moves, the cost per city employee continues to rise.

The average cost of salary and benefits per the number of employees is now $123,928 for its 226 full-time employees, according to the city of Rocklin. That cost has jumped 3 percent since 2010, as the number of employees has actually been cut by 8 percent. In 2009, it was $110,250 per employee.

“Rocklin employees are extremely dedicated and accomplished and have worked hard during this recession and have agreed to concessions to help the city’s finances,” said Mayor Diana Ruslin.

The city has been negotiating with its employee unions to reduce employment costs, including increasing employee contributions to the city’s defined benefit retirement plans with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

“Having the employees pay their retirement share and reducing the cost of retirement by changing the way retirement payments are calculated has been our goal and will make our cost lower and our part of the system more realistic,” Ruslin said.

The city points to a reduction in mandatory days off from 13 days a year to 10, as well as recent merit increases, longevity salary increases and medical insurance rate and PERS rate increases for the upward change. The city expects the PERS to increase next year, as well.

The average cost per employee number provided by the city is based on base pay, overtime, estimated leave payouts, uniform form allowance, education incentive, longevity, employer-paid medical, dental, vision, life insurance and retirement, as well as employer taxes and insurance (including SDI, Medicare and workers’ compensation) divided by the number of full-time employees. The city of Davis, whose number of full-time employees has risen from 372 in 2009 to 390 employees today, has seen its average cost rise from $107,000 to $112,595. Cities of similar size to Rocklin, including Woodland and Folsom, do not track the cost per employee number.

Next month, Rocklin’s chief financial officer is expected to present her assessment of the city’s other post-employment benefits costs associated with the city’s increasing bill for covering its retirees’ health costs.

Rocklin residents’ reaction to the ballooning average cost per employee figures was cautionary. Concerned resident Janet Dunlap believes the higher-compensated employees are inflating the number.

“The numbers sound huge for such a small community as Rocklin,” Dunlap said. “Sometimes I think those jobs might be filled by good people who would be willing to work for less in order to have one of those jobs. And a lesser compensation still appears to be a good wage.”

Rocklin resident Richard Burton suggested the city needs to take a harder line with its employee unions.

“The city has the ability to say no to proposed pay and benefits in any contract between the city and the union,” he said. “I doubt the city wanted to take up the fight. What bothers me are the excuses given by management who will claim that providing the perks ensures top employees and less turnover, etc. I don’t buy it. Not in these hard times.”

Resident Wayne Beck tried to put the increase in costs and the decrease in the number of employees into perspective.

“When one considers that an 8 percent decrease in employees does not automatically mean an 8 percent decrease in workload as well, so, while in these times of recession and fiscal challenges, granting a 3 percent increase to the remaining employees might not be all that bad from a certain perspective,” Beck said.

Beck said at the end of the day, Rocklin voters have to decide if the city is being aggressive enough with its cost controls.

“It’s up to the voters in the long run if they don’t like the salaries,” he said. “A simple solution, vote out the City Council and replace them with those who would be more aggressive. Since I haven’t seen a whole lot of turnover in the Rocklin City Council, I’d say the voters also share some responsibility.”

Resident Jill Fellows thinks citizens should take a closer look at what city employees actually do before casting a judgment on their compensation.

“Every employee of this city has a super-duper difficult job to fulfill,” she said. “I am always impressed. A good eye-opener was attending the Rocklin Citizens Academy. I am going to attend again.”

The academy is a series of free meet-and-greet tutorial sessions with every city department, put on yearly by city staff. The spring session begins March 7. Applications are available at the city’s Administration Building on Rocklin Road or on the city’s website, www.rocklin.ca.gov. Click on the “How do I?” tab. Then look for “register for” and “Citizens Academy” on the drop-down list.