Of the 1,900 people who draw part-time or full-time pay checks from the City of Santa Barbara, two are paid more than $200,000 a year, 221 are paid between $100,000 and $200,000, 566 make between $40,000 and $80,000 a year, and 450 are paid less than $10,000 a year. Of the latter, most are part-time and seasonal workers. Of the highest paid 56 city employees, 16 were department heads. The remainder worked for either the Police Department or the Fire Department. While many of these were departmental brass, some were sworn officers, whose salaries are significantly augmented by overtime pay. Similarly, public safety employees dominated the roster of city workers making $100,000 a year or more.
This information is very much on the minds of City Council members, now trying to stay out of the crossfire erupting from contract negotiations between the Police Officers Association and City Manager Jim Armstrong. The police officers’ contract expired July 1, and Armstrong declared an impasse two weeks ago. Armstrong has insisted that police officers pay into their own retirement pay — 4.3 percent — to help bridge a projected budget shortfall of $9 million this coming year.
Traditionally, most city employees contribute something to their retirement accounts, but public safety employees never have. Accordingly, the POA is vigorously resisting the proposed change. Union leaders claim such a change would put Santa Barbara at a competitive disadvantage with comparable coastal communities and would precipitate a mass exodus of officers from the Santa Barbara Police Department. Armstrong has argued that the city cops and firefighters need to do their part in addressing the city’s chronic budget woes. Other city employee unions agreed to furloughs and wage cuts, and the firefighters have indicated a willingness to consider significant concessions. The POA — which recently said it offered $689,000 in concessions — and city negotiators will sit down sometime next week for a mediated settlement discussion. This city is asking for $1 million in concessions. Should negotiations fail, the City Council has the legal authority to unilaterally impose a one-year contract on the politically powerful union, an eventuality all councilmembers would love to avoid.