Posted on 22 January 2013.
Crushed Under Salary and Pensions, Eureka is Broke
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 their shiny weight in gold– as are those Ford patrol cruisers the City wastefully put on ice and didn’t use.
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 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 it 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 financial fiasco. See the figures from the State Controller’s Office for yourself, and tell us what you think.
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. When it sunsets, they’ll ask for more. Natch.
Things were rosy. That is, until City Manager David Tyson, who doesn’t reside in the City limits, told us that all of a sudden they now need more money– and, lo and behold– his timing comes just before his own hefty retirement pension package 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, enriching 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.
Otherwise, they’ll be asking for money money soon.
You can bet on it.
* * * * * * * * *
When we first looked into the salary levels for Eureka we were simply astounded.
The Humboldt Sentinel has been the only media outlet initially reporting on these surprising sums from the State Controller’s Office.
On April 1, 2013, Grant Scott-Goforth’s Time-Standard article, “State Website Shows Local Government Wages“
later confirmed our suspicions.
“Eureka 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 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