Categorized | Eureka, Local, Politics

The Surprising Sums of Eureka City Hall

 

Crushed Under Salary and Pensions, Eureka is Broke

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Where did the money go?

Only nine months ago, Eureka Finance Director Paul
Rodrigues painted a rosy picture.  Eureka was doing
fine, fiscally speaking, he said.

Hank Sims of the Lost Coast Outpost gave us surprisingly different news on Wednesday.  Eureka is broke.

Not only that, we’re in debt.  The City is $7.8 million behind in its pension debt for employees.  The City– and specifically City Manager David Tyson and Finance Director Paul Rodrigues– want to adopt a bond issue covering the multi-million amount.

Even more surprising is that they want to make an end run around the normally required 2/3 ballot vote by having the bond issue remain off the ballot by seeking court approval instead of having taxpaying voters decide upon the measure.  The bond issue looks to have a whole cabal of
embedded toxic and arcane financing instruments worthy of the winged
monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.

This news comes on the heels of recent revelations that the McKinleyville School District and its trustees bought a high interest loan package of CABS– Capital Appreciation Bonds– and spent $72 million dollars to borrow $7-14 million and heaping the monstrous burden of debt onto unsuspecting McKinleyville property owners.

 

City Hall:  Who’s Minding the Store?

Long before these events occurred we had an inkling of the City’s runaway debt expenses.  Things just didn’t add up.

We were wondering, for example, why the five Eureka Ford police vehicles newly purchased by the City of Eureka at a cost of over $100,000 two years ago were still sitting unused and mothballed at the Eureka Corporation yard, exposed to the elements and seemingly rotting away without being put into service.  One has since been sold for a loss at auction.

The Eureka Police Department decided put the Fords aside in favor of purchasing some newer sexier Dodge Chargers to use instead.  We were given several explanations:  The Ford cruisers were awaiting light bars; they would be rotated into service soon; they were awaiting the start of next fiscal year’s budget.  None have happened.  The Fords are still sitting there, untouched, unmoved, and seemingly resting in a state of arrested decomposition like empty caskets awaiting cadavers.

Councilmember Marian Brady did bring the subject up, popping the question to our City Finance Man in a Eureka City Hall meeting nine months back.  Eureka’s Finance Director—a dapper panjandrum– gingerly skirted the issue.  He didn’t even attempt to give a cogent or congruent response.  Surprisingly, none of Eureka’s Councilmembers followed up on his blatantly non sequitur explanation that was dished out to them. 

They sat in dumbfounded silence, waiting for a few pregnant moments as the pea was adeptly shuffled under a different shell, and, resuscitated from their paused hesitation and obvious discomfort, moved onto the next item appearing on the agenda.  After all, they knew it was a waste of money– and they wouldn’t have to pay for it.  The taxpayers would.  Shuffle the pea, move on, and hope no one notices the difference.

We also took notice that City Manager David Tyson will be retiring with a percentage of his yearly retirement pay of $157,000.  Eureka’s incoming City Manager, William Panos, will be receiving a bit more, at $158,000.  Someone has to pay and pad those salaries.  That someone is you.

So we wondered: how much do these these municipal folks typically get paid per year?  Here’s a few numbers we came up with, taken from the California State Controller 2010 figures:

  • City Manager David Tyson:  $150,339 (His Assistant City Manager rakes in another $111,000)
  • City Attorney:  $135,960
  • City Engineer:  $121,739
  • Redevelopment and Housing Director:  $101,166
  • Public Works Director:  $98,495
  • Personnel Director:  $93,464
  • Finance Director:  $89,640

That’s just for starters.  There’s a lot more.  And remember, they all have additional staff and assistants on the payroll, too.

The City has 491 employees for an area of 9.4 square miles and 26,066 residents.  That’s one City employee for every 53 citizens.  The total City wage payroll comes to a whopping $16 million per year, or about $614 for every man, woman, and child in the city limits.  The average per capita household income in Eureka is $29,000.

 

The Police Department

Then we heard word that the Eureka Chief of Police, before Measure O was passed bolstering safety needs in our fair City, was paid roughly $133,000 in 2010– but his total wage compensation package bumped up to nearly $156,000, according to the California State Controller.

But there’s more.  The EPD Chief’s wages were followed by:

His Captain annually topping out at $112,500;

Two Lieutenants making approximately $107,000 each;

Nine sergeants pulling in $71,831 to $103,462 each;

And 89 other employees– ranging from 37 police officers to dispatchers to records specialists to an animal control technician, at different salary levels.  In all, there are nearly 100 EPD personnel fighting crime in various capacities in Eureka.

Perhaps we need it and this isn’t unusual given the complexity of police work nowadays.  Eureka, indeed, does have a fairly significant crime problem.  EPD deals with the unseemly ne’er-do-wells, scoundrels, rogues, vagabonds, and bugaboos infesting the City with skullduggeries that more genteel folks would prefer not to embrace.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that EPD officers can enjoy early retirement at age 50 with 90% of their salary for life.  A 3% @ 50 CalPers safety compensation package is standard issue for peace officers along with their weapons.  It’s a costly proposition.  Every officer may very well be worth his/her shiny badge of value as are those Ford patrol cruisers the City wastefully
put on ice.

 

The Fire Department:  Gold Plated Brass

So it didn’t surprise us, either, looking at some of the more shocking figures for
the Eureka Fire Department (since reorganized as Humboldt Bay Fire).

According to the State Controller’s Office 2010 figures, the Fire Chief took home a tidy sum of $166,666.  Nice.

His two Assistant Chiefs hauled in nearly $108,723 and $119,643, respectively.  Very nice!

More surprising was the addition of even more shiny brass.  The above administrative positions were followed by– get this– a gaggle of 18 Fire Captains I/II– at salaries ranging from $56,088 to $104,195 each.   Those were followed by 11 Fire Engineers with salary levels of between $48,456 to $70,359.

Of course, every fire department needs basic firefighters towing the line and putting out fires.  We only have six of those, ranging in price from $43,932 to $61,951.  A bargain!

Altogether, the Eureka Fire Department had 40 employees in 2010– with nearly all having the same 3% @50 retirement package as police officers.

There aren’t so many fires these days as there were back in the days of yore.  Buildings just don’t burn down like they used to, given the current building codes, safety standards, and new materials for construction.  Nowadays, our fire department performs first responder/ambulance calls, conducts fire inspections, and instructs first aid classes when they’re not going to schools teaching kids about fire safety.  Like EPD, the EFD/Humboldt Bay Fire also has a dangerous job to do; perhaps they, too, deserve safety pensions and retirement at the highest salary levels by age 50– even those hapless
bureaucratic souls who push paper at a desk.  After all, they may trip
over a chair getting up.

One can argue there are far too many chiefs and fat-cat administrators than there are troops in the trenches.  By retiring early, they’re set fairly well for life while the next round of recruits are to be similarly compensated. 

Because California has had a spiralling upward trend of government salaries– while it, too, goes broke– one can argue salary levels in Eureka are merely commensurate with the rest of the State.  And so the problem continues unabated.

 

Public Works and Recreation

But, surprisingly enough, it wasn’t EPD or EFD’s figures that
gave us cause for pause.  Here’s the sum that truly amazed us:
the number of allocated positions in one area of the City’s
enchanted 9.4 mile realm:  Public Works.

Public Works has a staggering 162 positions dedicated to…  recreation workers!  Seven pages worth in 2010, the State Controller reports, with salaries ranging between mostly paltry levels on the low end to a maximum $60,636 Recreation and Facilities Manager on the other.  The latter position carries a retirement package at age 57.  Another position we saw was entitled Men’s Basketball Official, paying $46,101.   Now that’s what we call a good gig.  Looking up the position again for this column several months later, it appears to have been since removed.

But due to the whopping number of recreation workers—162—we feel there must be some mistake.  Perhaps the majority of these positions are temporary, part time, vacant, frozen, or simply redundant in some way–a Twilight Zone of anomalies.  The City spent $512,847 per year on these wages in 2010 but the total budgetary allotment of the recreation positions comes in at a staggering $3 million.  Heavens to Betsy.  That can’t possibly be true, can it?  Read the figures and weep, folks.

Of course, Eureka does have its share of crumbling, decaying, and downright miserable roads that the City Council members discussed recently, mutually wringing their hands and nodding their heads in unison and dismay over the given plight of our potholed thoroughfares.

Fortunately we’re pleased to report, and you’ll be overjoyed to know, Eureka has been working on that.  They have nine positions—9!– set aside for maintaining our streets.  True, it’s not as many as our safety officers– or our recreation workers– but it
works.  And few of those roadworkers make as much as
our noted basketball official.

But don’t take our word on this fiasco.  See the figures from the State Controller’s Office for yourself, and tell us what you think and come up with.

 

Feeding the Beast, Gouging theTaxpayer

However, you may want to know who are the lowest paid employees.  Surprisingly enough, the City Council.  They receive roughly $6,000 per year, plus health benefits, for their civic servitude.  And the Mayor?  He pulls in $7,500 and doesn’t have to vote unless it’s a tie.  He does have to remember to raise or lower the podium and turn on the microphone.

We won’t even venture to guess how those City pensions will be paid off in the future.  Measure O helped fill part of the fiscal gap, at least temporarily.

That is, until City Manager David Tyson, who doesn’t reside in the City limits, told us they now need more money, and before his own hefty retirement comes due.  How much more? $7.8 million in arrears, apparently, to cover employees pension costs, we were told.  We ask:  why weren’t the pension obligations budgeted, tracked, and paid for in the first place?

Where did the money go?  We would venture to guess that,
like the rest of California,  Eureka has become a runaway
fiscal train, a lucrative Ponzi scheme for its own employees,
waste of moneyenriching its base at the expense of taxpayers.

Then, of course, there have been the many costly lawsuits the City either settled or lost over the past several years.  But that’s another story altogether.

Maybe it’s time to draw in the reigns and finally say enough is
enough– to debt, bonds, runaway pensions, and government
servants gouging its citizens unmercifully.

 * * * * * * * * *

When we first looked into the salary levels for Eureka we were astounded.  The Humboldt Sentinel has been the only media outlet initially reporting on these surprising sums from the State Controller’s Office.

stoogesOn April 1, 2013, Grant Scott-Goforth’s Time-Standard article, “State Website Shows Local Government Wages“  later confirmed our suspicions.  It reportedEureka paid $16 million in wages — the 10th highest total out of more than 100 cities with populations between 10,000 and 30,000.

The Eureka City Council will approve the pension bond issue– and thereby sideswiping voters from a ballot vote– at their
next meeting Tuesday, December 18 at 6 p.m.
at the Eureka City Hall.

Concerned residents should call or contact their Eureka Councilmembers.  At the very least, request the item be pulled from the agenda/consent calendar for public discussion.  Otherwise, it receives immediate blanket consent.  Send or share with them this article.

You can reach Councilmembers by phone, e-mail, or fax using the links below:

Mayor Frank Jager, #441-4200

Marian Brady, Ward 1, #441-4169

Linda Atkins, Ward 2, #441-4168

Mike Newman, Ward 3, #441-4170

Melida Ciarabellini, Ward 4, #441-4167

Lance Madsen, Ward 5, #441-4171

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22 Responses to “The Surprising Sums of Eureka City Hall”

  1. evan says:

    Thank you for writing this article. Very well written. I agree the government has become a self serving money sink. No accountability and limited transparency. Pensions paid to ineffective and incompetent employees, all financed by the tax payer. I am tired of being tax base for the elite. I call shenanigans! Get them out of office and replace them with someone honest and competent. Cut unnecessary positions and focus on infrastructure maintenance. If I were president…

  2. bill masson says:

    Thanks for the story i for one want to learn more.

  3. Skippy says:

    Thank you, Evan and Bill. When we first looked into the salary levels for Eureka we were astounded. As far as we know, the Sentinel was the first and only media organization to report on these surprisingly exorbitant figures taken directly from the State Controller’s Office.

    The Eureka City Council will be looking to approve the pension bond issue– and thereby sideswiping voters from a ballot vote– this Tuesday, December 18, at 6 p.m. at the City Hall.

    Concerned residents should call/contact Eureka Councilmembers. At the very least, request the item should be pulled from the agenda/consent calendar for public discussion; otherwise, it will receive immediate blanket consent.

    You can reach Councilmembers by phone, e-mail, or fax using the links below:

    Mayor Frank Jager, #441-4200

    Marian Brady, Ward 1,#441-4169

    Linda Atkins, Ward 2, #441-4168

    Mike Newman, Ward 3, #441-4170

    Melida Ciarabellini, Ward 4, #441-4167

    Lance Madsen, Ward 5, #441-4171

  4. Newcomer says:

    Eureka is following the path of most cities; high salaries, and an outrageous pension calculation. Look at Vallejo, Stockton, San Bernardino, to start, all of which filed Bankruptcy because they could no longer afford employee wages, benefits, pensions. Granted, each city had its own unique problems and fiscal mismanagement, but it all started with finance directors and City managers reporting to council and public that everything was fine, but then within a matter of 1 to 3 years, BK is filed.

    The best job in California is government… city, county or state. The wages are higher than the communities median and average wages, and benefits are bountiful, and the pensions? forever and ever and ever. And you and I ? Overtime, we will get less service, the employees will get higher pay, and we will foot the tax bill.

    Time to start looking at this closer. Start with the Fords bought and not used by Police, and the extraordinarily bad streets. Time for the city to step up.

    Public employee salaries/benefits information is public information, available with a freedom of information act request to the city. You’ll be shocked.

  5. Skippy says:

    Thank you, Newcomer. We agree. The Sentinel has carried more than a few columns on the high pension obligations of municipal employees, bankruptcy of three California cities, and the State debt.

    The State Controller has listed wages and positions for most cities in our Golden State for this very reason, and because of what transpired in the infamous example of Bell, California.

    One can see the 2010 wages of a few of our Humboldt County cities without filing a FOIA request. In 2012, however, these wages may have hiked even further upward.

    The most surprising figure we found as the highest paid official in Humboldt County? Hold on to your seat. It’s the Humboldt County Sheriff with total wage and benefit compensation at $363,689! Keep in mind he can retire at age 50 under his safety officer retirement plan and with up to 90% of his salary paid for life.

    The next highest paid official? You probably guessed it: the County Medical Director of Mental Health, at $281,201, who can retire at age 55. And following him are two County Mental Health Physician/Psychiatrist positions for Mental Health, earning $250,373 and $246,410, respectively.

    One of the more fiscally conservative cities in terms of wages for all positions is– no surprise here– Ferndale. Curious to note, Trinidad is the highest per capita income city/town in Humboldt County– but has only eight modestly paid employees serving its 368 upscale residents. Most of Trinidad’s positions are unfilled and vacant.

    I invite everyone to take a look at their own municipality by clicking on the links below:

    Humboldt County

    Arcata

    Blue Lake

    Ferndale

    Fortuna

    Rio Dell

    Trinidad

  6. Paul Rodrigues says:

    Hello,

    I really would have liked to have had the opportunity to speak with you and try and answer some of your questions that could have possibly allayed some of your concerns.

    I am trying to understand how you are drawing a conclusion from an item in which the City of Eureka will save over a million dollars somehow will leave the city “broke”, particularly when your source, the Lost Coast Outpost concludes a day or so later, after talking with staff, that

    “Two days ago, the Lost Coast Outpost ran a story about legal action the City of Eureka is taking to sell some $8.2 million worth of bonds in order to pay off its debt to CalPERS, the state public employees’ retirement system. The bonds themselves appear to be a smart move. They’d take the interest rate the city’s currently paying on that debt from 7.5 percent to something much lower, thereby freeing up $100,000 per year or so of the city’s budget.”

    Nor are we “behind” on our PERS side funds. The City of Eureka has always met its pension obligations to CALPERS and has never once fallen behind on its payments. The unfunded liability is a result of CALPERS actuarial calculations and is very common among member agencies.

    Further, Eureka is not making “an end run around the normally required 2/3 ballot vote by having the bond issue remain off the ballot by seeking court approval instead of having taxpaying voters decide upon the measure.”

    The Validation Action is required as part of the approval process, but the bonds themselves need City Council (not Voter) approval.

    As this issuance is refinancing an existing indebtedness and not creating new debt, it only requires City Council approval, so in this instance, the 2/3 ballot vote is not required, nor is it normal in this case to seek voter approval.

    Further, the bonds proposed are not Capital Appreciation Bonds. Repayments begin immediately, so there is no large accrual of unpaid interest.

    I am also confused, “dapper panjandrum” that I am about the issue with the Police cars. I don’t recall ever being questioned about them, and to be clear, I would defer to the Police Chief or Public Works Director if questioned.

    Are there legitimate issues about pension costs, salaries and the like? Of course there are. Eureka is facing financial challenges just like every other city throughout the State of California. These are issues that everyone is concerned about, and should you wish to further explore what we are doing to meet these challenges, I would be more than happy to sit down and try and answer any questions you have.

    • Les Carey says:

      “Further, Eureka is not making “an end run around the normally required 2/3 ballot vote by having the bond issue remain off the ballot by seeking court approval instead of having taxpaying voters decide upon the measure.”

      The Validation Action is required as part of the approval process, but the bonds themselves need City Council (not Voter) approval.

      As this issuance is refinancing an existing indebtedness and not creating new debt, it only requires City Council approval, so in this instance, the 2/3 ballot vote is not required, nor is it normal in this case to seek voter approval.”

      This is a lie. California law allows local governments to refund bonds that have been voter approved in the past. Calpers obligations are not “bonds” that are to be refunded, just short term obligations that have never been approved by the voters.

      Nice try we will see you in court. This is just another David Tyson clusterfuck.

    • Skippy says:

      Thank you for your informative reply, Mr. Rodrigues. We see the issue differently. Will the bond issue– and $7.8 million of pension indebtedness– truly save taxpayers money or cost them? Are salaries and retirement levels excessive? Is it a silk purse or a sow’s ear without the consent of voters? It depends upon one’s point of view.

      The Times-Standard has a fair and accurate assessment here containing your important clarifications that interested readers may wish to see.

      On Tuesday night the City Council approved the pension funding bonds. Whether it’s unlikely or not to be approved by the Council and voters, CABS are clearly written into the language so as to “not to preclude using any of those financing options in the future.”

      And to kindly note, panjandrum may also refer to a ‘powerful personage’.

      • HamSammich says:

        Let me see if I understand you, Skips. CityDude offers opportunity for you to talk and ask questions so as to offer up a better story one with direct answers from an actual city official. I would have thought you would have done that before reaching your conclusions.

        You may be right, the city might be broke, but your story would have been more balanced with actual input. You otta try and actually talk to the people involved.

        You might even catch them in some prosecutable offenses because this bond story seems big, very big, and getting a city official on the record would be huge.

  7. Paul Rodrigues says:

    One other thing,

    My contact information is email: prodrigues@ci.eureka.ca.gov

    and Office Telephone: 441-4114

    I am always happy to meet with you, or anyone in the public who may have questions or concerns.

    Finally, I had to look up what panjandrum meant; given that it means a pompous self-important official, it seems that I’ve moved up in the world :)

  8. Anonymous says:

    “The unfunded liability is a result of CALPERS actuarial calculations and is very common among member agencies.”

    “Common”, yet, unanticipated?

    Furthermore, we’re repeatedly reminded that Eureka requires high administrative salaries to compete for competent staff.

    However, taxpayers subsidize California’s university graduates with advanced degrees in public financing, public administration, human resources, communication, and much more, and yet, Eureka has few! How many even have a master’s degree in their field?

    It’s high-time taxpayers took an inventory to make sure we’re getting our money’s worth, as opposed to another “Mayberry” rewarding poorly credentialed friends and sycophants with seats at the trough.

  9. Scott Mathison says:

    Everyone loves it when individuals get together and share monied opinions on city hall and politics. Great post, keep it up.

  10. Quentin Schatt says:

    This was helpful for me and gave me alot to think about. Thanks for this!

  11. Eric Hove says:

    Great article Skippy, you’ve really shared the hard-hitting facts. I’m shocked that the new ford police vehicles still have not been used… why let such powerful and usual cars (to the police force) sit by the wayside?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Here’s our two thumbs up.  Even if the Eureka Police Department issues press releases 5-6 days late, and sometimes not at all.  They also decided to do away with their ‘Most Wanted List’for the public’s awareness because it was too time consuming to update 20 photos.  That’s what they get paid the big money for. [...]

  2. [...] course, we have our own take of Eureka’s continual efforts towards gilding its finances and payroll for its own benefit while something as basic as its streets– a function of City government [...]

  3. [...] have our own take of Eureka’s continual efforts towards gilding its finances and payroll to its own [...]

  4. [...] and storefronts shuttering, it can devote its resources to a new and more prosperous direction:  paying its employees and building a fantasy train to [...]

  5. [...] hope Eureka can save itself from the self-serving dysfunctional miasmus of muck and mire it has fallen into.  Good luck with the current status quo in charge changing [...]

  6. [...] that happens, we’ll just bleed away more money until City Hall, like the town of Bell, can get itself into fiscal rehab before it’s too [...]


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