Next month, the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District is expected to make a pitch that 220,000 Sacramento County property owners approve a large property tax assessment on their properties.
Annual assessments on single-family homes will range up to $50 per year if the proposal is approved by property owners, according to Craig Powell, president of Eye on Sacramento, a public policy watchdog. Commercial properties and apartment complexes will be significantly higher.
The Sacramento Bee published a story Wednesday reporting about the State Controller’s most recent report on the 1,000 highest paid public employees in the Sacramento region, reporting pay from 2012.
Six different California fire districts top the list of highest paid public employees:
- Belmont-San Carlos Fire District, San Mateo County
- Montecito Fire District, Santa Barbara County
- Novato Fire District, Marin County
- Chino Valley Fire District, San Bernardino County
- Woodside Firer District, San Mateo County
- Sacramento Metro Fire District, Sacramento County
Sacramento’s fire employees were each paid more than $216,000, which is $50,000 more than we pay the governor. Four of the 10 highest paid public employees in our region work for Metro Fire. (This is the Controller’s report: GCC : Special Districts )
However, fully 49 out of the 100 highest paid public employees in the Sacramento region are employed by Sacramento Metro Fire, Powell said.
“One, a fire captain, was paid $349,259 in 2012, two years ago. These four fire fighters each received more in annual compensation than was paid to the highest paid city manager or county administrator in our region, several of whom are responsible for overseeing billion dollar budgets and many thousands of employees,” Powell said.
While Sacramento Metro Fire compensation levels have been relatively flat in recent years thanks to the recession, they appear to remain bloated and out of whack in comparison to other fire departments and government agencies in the region and state.
History repeating itself
According to the Bee, this has been an historical problem.
Not long ago, the Sacramento Bee reported Sacramento Metro Fire had been working on cleaning up its act. “For a decade or more, Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District has been the poster child in the region for public employee compensation excess,” the Bee reported in June 2012.
And then the Bee reported the recession forced Metro Fire to deal with its excesses. “Metro Fire salaries have been frozen at 2008 levels. Union members agreed to forgo increases that had been part of their contract. The new fire chief took a 20 percent pay cut. He earns $234,900 – $32,000 less than his predecessor,” the Bee reported.
Ironically, just the month before the Bee did a story on the 1,000 top paid public employees in the region. “The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District employed 207 of the 1,000 highest-paid employees in the region during 2010; the district has about 600 total workers,” the Bee said.
Yet the fire district still remains exactly where it ranked in compensation in 2009 – still seventh highest in the state. In 2009, Sacramento Metro Fire employees had the 7th highest average employee compensation out of 1,524 special districts in California, according to the State Controller. In 2012, Metro Fire still has the 7th highest average employee compensation of all California special districts, leaving many to wonder how Sacramento Metro Fire cleaned up its act, or if anything really changed.
Powell is concerned there is no assurance that revenue from a new property tax assessment won’t be used to further increase the already high pay at Sacramento Metro Fire.
It’s good to be the Chief
According to the Modesto Bee, the current fire chief of Sac Metro Fire, Kurt Heinke, was a long-time fire union boss in Vallejo before being hired by Sacramento Metro Fire. Heinke served 15 years as the controversial head of the fire fighters local in Vallejo, the union that played a major role in helping drive that city into municipal bankruptcy a few years ago.
This is largely the result of a special district coming under the complete domination of its own employees, in this case members of Firefighters Local 522.
Sacramento Metro Fire is a combination of 16 smaller fire departments that, over the years, merged to create this California Special District.