Will city address staff salaries?

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Will city address staff salaries?With revenues already declining at a staggering rate — and officials predicting an even steeper plummet to accompany the anticipated trigger of sequestration — residents are voicing a growing concern over the rapidly growing structural deficit between revenues and expenditures in the city budget. (See also related story, this page.)

After losing some $2.5 million out of the budget in early 2012, Interim City Manager Dennis Speer sprang a newly discovered deficit of $1.2 million to the recently seated Ridgecrest City Council at its Dec. 19 meeting.

While the council took token steps to address that (cutting about $100,000 and shifting other expenses to different account codes, including Measure L), the lion’s share of the city’s overspent condition remained intact.

According to early projections of revenues coming in far below estimates, the city is now spending approximately $7,000 more per day than it is bringing in. Since the council last addressed the deficit, the city has spent $500,000 it doesn’t have.

An auditor’s report earlier this month re-vealed that the difference between revenues and expenditures is closer to $3 million. But on the following meeting, no budget items appeared on the agenda.

While some councilmembers have called for immediately addressing the crisis, others have cited new and interim staff and a relatively new council as reasons for putting off action. Meanwhile, residents consistently pack the public comment period and plead for a solution.

Last year the News Review published a citizen-circulated report that showed more than a dozen city employee salaries as topping $100,000 per year.

Last week The San Francisco Gate published a report about the growing cost of public employees — showing that 572 San Francisco city workers made more than Gov. Jerry Brown.

Yesterday the Huffington Post published an article that said when Stockton declared bankruptcy, 25 percent of its employees were making more than $100,000 annually.

Since last year’s public airing of Ridgecrest salaries, many citizens have come forward and asked for the salaries of the highest-paid employees to be brought in line with the constraints of the budget.

The recent audit indicates that the city collected $8.9 million in revenue last year. Public records show that $6.7 million of that is tied up in salaries.

When the News Review looked up the 2011 city of Ridgecrest employee salaries posted on the state controller’s website (the city did not respond to requests for 2012 numbers before press time), the data showed that 13 employees made more than California state legislators. (See related chart, this page.)

Although it is unknown if Speer is collecting the same salary, the previous city manager made $187,000 in 2011, according to the website. By contrast, Brown collects some $173,000. A member of the U.S. Congress collects $174,000.

However, that website also reports that the average city employee collects only $37,703.

Some residents have suggested that it is the unsustainable high-end salaries, rather than a reduction of revenue, that have resulted in a decline in service. (As one example, the Parks and Rcreation Department budget continues to grow every year, but several parks have gone brown for lack of maintenance.)

Other reductions in service include that for streets — despite the addition of the Measure L revenue that was promised to fund repairs and maintenance along with public safety. The bulk of Measure L funding has been used to backfill police officer salaries. According to reports at last week’s City Organization Committee meeting, even with the little Measure L funds that have been set aside for streets, the street maintenance fund is currently in the red.

Although the city has seen a significant reduction of force over the last few years, most of the laid-off employees were those collecting lower salaries.

During last year’s budget sessions, the former city manager reduced one department-head position and consolidated street and park maintenance staff under one supervisor. Those cuts were restored by the council (although the vote was not unanimous).

At the Feb. 6 meeting, another resident asked the council to consider reducing the top salaries. So far, there has been no public response.

Story First Published: 2013-02-27