Where the money goes

The recent publication of city employees’ salaries on the Enterprise-Record’s Web site has put the ongoing discussion of how to balance the city of Chico’s budget in coming years into clearer perspective. It’s also provided data that substantiate the analysis CN&R contributor Richard Ek provided in his March 29, 2007, cover story, “Breaking the Bank.”

As Ek’s story showed, and the salary figures confirm, successive city councils, liberal and conservative alike, have agreed to such generous pay-and-benefits contracts over the years that there’s not enough money left over to repair the streets, fully staff the Police Department and help keep the library open for more than a few hours a week. Simply put, the taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth.

When a fire captain in Chico can earn nearly as much in 2006 ($179,000) as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the highest-ranking general in the U.S. military ($187,000), you know something is amiss. And that’s not counting the fire captain’s benefits, which amount to 53 percent of his base salary and could allow him to retire after 30 years of work with 90 percent of his highest salary for the rest of his life.

Between 2000 and 2007, Chico firefighters got raises totaling 40.1 percent. This year the City Council approved a new contract that will hike their pay by another 25 percent over the next six years, even though councilmembers knew they didn’t have the money to cover it.

Councilmembers tell us the city has to pay such high salaries to remain competitive and attract good candidates, but that’s a belief that’s never been tested. Many private-sector employees accept lower incomes than they could enjoy elsewhere in order to live in Chico. It’s time we asked city employees to do likewise.

We’re glad that the salary figures have been made public. We hear the E-R is planning to publish similar data for Butte County and Chico Unified School District employees. That’s also worthwhile. We regret, however, that the paper has chosen to include the employees’ names. Such personal information should be published only when doing so serves a useful purpose.