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City of Santa Barbara’s Five Highest-Paid Public Employees

City’s Number-One Earner Beat Out His Boss by Making More Than His Base Pay in Overtime

Photo: Paul Wellman/file photo Sergeant James Ella remains the highest-paid city employee because of his substantial overtime hours.

The highest-paid City of Santa Barbara employee, Police Sergeant James Ella, brought home close to $399,162.03 in pay and benefits in the 2017-18 fiscal year ​— ​more than City Administrator Paul Casey ($372,675.04); now-retired Fire Chief Pat McElroy ($369,998.30); his boss, Police Chief Lori Luhnow ($365,616.47); and City Attorney Ariel Calonne ($337,062.07), respectively.

Ella’s base pay, $135,261.61, is lower than the base pay of the 11 highest-paid city employees after him. He still remains the highest-paid city employee because of his substantial overtime hours. He made more than his base pay in overtime last year ​— ​$181,149.86. The second-highest paid employee, City Administrator Casey, worked no overtime the same year. 

Much of Ella’s overtime comes from working dispatch. To put it in perspective, eight sworn officers have worked dispatch overtime in the past fiscal year for a total of 1,688 hours. Ella worked 1,153 of those hours alone. The City of Santa Barbara puts no cap on the amount of overtime its employees can work, since doing so could “potentially and unnecessarily [restrict] the city’s ability to fully respond to emergency situations,” said Robert Samario, city finance director. The Independent reached out to Ella for comment, but he declined. ​

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