Fun with numbers

Playing around on the city’s new spreadsheets outlining employees’ compensation

I hate to beat a dead horse, but last week I got a call from a longtime reader, and it led me down a most enlightening path. Said reader wanted to know if Chico’s police officers weren’t compensated enough, as had been recently expressed to him by someone affiliated with the police department. I found myself repeating what I’ve written in this column time and time again. You know, that most of the city’s general fund is spent on employee payroll, and that a majority of that payroll allocation goes to public-safety personnel, mostly to police, who are compensated handsomely.

But then I stopped myself. I asked the reader if he was in front of his computer. He was. So I led him to the city’s website and to the link titled “City financial data.” That’s where the public can find compensation info for all city employees, from 2007 to 2013. And together, we did a little fun reading. The first police officer listed on the report from the earliest year made $28,108 in regular pay, but more than $50,000 in total compensation with overtime and benefits pay factored in. In 2013, that same officer made a salary of $69,507 and $138,826 in total compensation.

I’m no CFO, but a raise of more than 100 percent over six years seems pretty generous.

The city’s data isn’t perfect, however. To be fair, I have no idea whether the officer, listed only as employee EM3615, came on mid-year or something. Knowing how many hours each person worked would be helpful. I also favor posting each employee’s name, which is legal in California.

I then came upon employee EM3210, another police officer, who made a salary of $54,801 in 2007 and about $11,000 in overtime. With benefits, the grand total that year came to $118,000. In 2013, that officer’s salary is listed at $71,219. Including nearly $18,000 in overtime and those excessive benefits I’ve been haranguing about, that officer cost the city about $155,000.

OK, so not a 100 percent increase in that case. But I’d still say a $16,000-plus raise during the Great Recession isn’t too shabby.

Those cases aren’t flukes. As I went down the lines of text, it became clear that Chico’s police department was immune to austerity measures that ought to have taken place during the global financial crisis. In almost every instance, throughout the recession, police officers’ salaries and benefits jumped significantly. Same goes for employees of the fire department. Go see for yourself at

If you think something’s wrong with this scenario, let your representatives know. City management is currently in negotiations with the cops union, but those administrators get direction from the council.

Speaking of spending money wisely, whether you like it or not, we’re closing in on the holidays. This year, I was disturbed to see Christmas decorations appear on store shelves in September. I’d like to urge readers to check out this week’s cover story by Jim Hightower about online-behemoth Amazon before purchasing any gifts or gift certificates. Two words: buy locally.