Sacramento City Manager John Shirey said he is aware of the pay disparity between Sacramento and surrounding towns, and is especially concerned about police officer pay. José Luis Villegas Sacramento Bee file
Sacramento City Manager John Shirey said he is aware of the pay disparity between Sacramento and surrounding towns, and is especially concerned about police officer pay. José Luis Villegas Sacramento Bee file

The Public Eye

Sacramento city employees generally earn less than their suburban counterparts

By Phillip Reese

preese@sacbee.com

August 21, 2016 06:00 AM

The city of Sacramento has more people, employees and demand for services than any other city in the region. But Sacramento generally pays its employees less than workers in nearby suburbs, potentially creating recruitment and retention problems, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of more than 13,000 local government employee salaries.

The analysis looked at pay rates – including overtime, bonuses and vacation cash-outs upon retirement – for the 10 largest suburbs in the region and for the city of Sacramento using data from the State Controller’s Office. It drew on a new online database The Bee has compiled that allows readers to search the salaries of all 30,000 city and county government employees in the four-county Sacramento region.

Among the findings:

▪ The average pay for a Sacramento city police officer in 2015 was lower than the pay for police officers in all but one large suburb in the region.

Help us deliver journalism that makes a difference in our community.

Our journalism takes a lot of time, effort, and hard work to produce. If you read and enjoy our journalism, please consider subscribing today.

▪ The same was true for the job categories of firefighter and fire engineer: Sacramento paid those workers less, on average, than all but one large suburb in the region.

▪ Sacramento paid employees with “maintenance worker” in their job title less than any large suburb in the region. That job title can include parks and utilities workers, as well as people in building maintenance.

▪ Four large suburbs – Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Roseville – paid their city managers more than Sacramento City Manager John Shirey earned in 2015, though Shirey oversees anywhere from three to 50 times as many employees as his counterparts in those cities.

▪ And police chiefs in seven of the large suburbs made more in 2015 than Sacramento Police Chief Sam Somers Jr..

Whether Sacramento pays too little or the suburbs pay too much is a matter of dispute. But there’s general agreement that when one city raises its pay to recruit employees, it puts pressure on other cities to follow suit if they want to remain competitive, creating an upward spiral.

Shirey said he is aware of the pay disparity between Sacramento and surrounding towns. He is especially concerned about police officer pay.

The city is working to expand its police ranks, but often finds itself recruiting to fill vacancies created as officers leave for more lucrative jobs in the suburbs. Average total pay for officers is as much as 25 percent higher in suburban cities in the region compared with Sacramento, according to The Bee’s analysis.

Last year, 15 Sacramento police officers left the agency for other police departments, more than the number that left in 2013 and 2014 combined, city figures show. Already this year, 13 officers have left for other departments and another seven have started the process.

“From the formal to informal exit interviews, every officer stated that even though they really enjoy working for the Sacramento Police Department they will be given better compensation for less work where they will be working next,” said Sacramento Police Sgt. Bryce Heinlein.

Sacramento paid its police officers about $93,000 in base salary, overtime and retirement cash-outs, on average, in 2015. By comparison, Elk Grove paid its officers the highest average amount in the region, at $115,000. Citrus Heights was lowest, at $92,000.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department also competes for candidates and lately has offered higher salaries than the city, Shirey said.

“The market has moved ahead of us at a much more rapid rate,” he said. “Jurisdictions are paying much more than we do for this basic position – police officer. We know that we are now under the market and not by a small amount. That is very concerning.”

The issue extends to recruiting top leaders. For instance, last year, Christopher Boyd, the police chief in Citrus Heights, earned about $242,000 in total pay, about $40,000 more than Somers, the Sacramento police chief. Citrus Heights, a city of 86,000, employed 90 sworn officers and saw 389 violent crimes in 2014, according to data collected by the FBI. Sacramento, a city of 483,000, employs 623 sworn officers and saw 2,968 violent crimes.

“I’m very much aware that our police chief is underpaid,” Shirey said. “I’ve had a number of problems attracting top managers coming to Sacramento.”

Shirey’s predecessor as city manager, Ray Kerridge, left Sacramento and got a pay bump to become the city manager of Roseville. Kerridge earned about $300,000 in total pay in 2015; Shirey earned $267,000.

Jurisdictions are paying much more than we do for this basic position – police officer. We know that we are now under the market and not by a small amount. That is very concerning.

Sacramento City Manager John Shirey

Somers, Shirey and other managers still make far more than the large majority of Sacramentans not employed in local government. And, full-time rank-and-file Sacramento city workers generally earn a good living wage. Sacramento workers with “maintenance worker” in their job title earned about $46,000 on average, in 2015. Police and firefighters consistently earned close to or above six figures, albeit often with lots of overtime.

The median pay for full-time adult workers in the city of Sacramento, including those not employed by the government, was $44,000 in 2014.

There are fundamental reasons why Sacramento might choose to pay its employees less than some large suburbs.

Several of the suburbs have wealthier tax bases than Sacramento, making it easier to offer workers higher pay. Roseville, for instance, has a large swath of car dealerships that boost the city’s sales tax revenue.

Sacramento also must spend money on urban issues – Shirey gave the example of homelessness – that are often not as prevalent in suburbs. Spending money on those issues can leave less remaining for worker pay.

Also, it is more expensive to live in some Sacramento suburbs than it is to live in the city, a possible justification for higher pay elsewhere.

But the core issue remains: Why should a firefighter keep working for the Sacramento Fire Department if he sees an opening in Roseville or Folsom, where average total pay is $30,000 to $40,000 higher?

“It is completely hampering the ability for us at the Fire Department to recruit and retain people as we have these amazing shortages,” said Roberto Padilla, a Sacramento firefighter and spokesman for the Sacramento Area Local 522 Firefighters Union.

Padilla said five firefighters have left the city for Roseville in recent months. “The workload is much less,” he said. “The pay benefits are much higher.”

Shirey said that in many cases where the city pays less than suburbs, it is still able to attract and retain good talent because there are many qualified candidates willing to do the work.

“We offer good salaries and benefits for most positions,” he said. “We don’t have trouble attracting candidates.”

Phillip Reese: 916-321-1137, @PhillipHReese