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Making sense of dollars paid to city workers

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POSTED February 5, 2009 4:12 a.m.
David Marques is a Manteca fire captain.

If you happen to see his salary and overtime, which came to just under a sixth of what he made last year, you might think it is high – or is it?

Like other Manteca firefighters, he is paid according to a contract negotiated that puts their salary in the median range of similar-sized cities in the region. Nine percent of his base pay is actually his retirement. His bargaining unit negotiated it in such a manner it would be treated as salary compensation then contributed to the Public Employees Retirement System. It has everything to do with tax advantages for the employee and nothing to do with squeezing out another penny from the public.

What, though, about the overtime? Is that obscene? Perhaps it is time to read the rest of the story. Yes, some of that overtime was paid by Manteca taxpayers but the overwhelming chunk was reimbursed by the State of California.

Marques and other firefighters repeatedly answered the call during the horrendous fire season that destroyed thousands upon thousands of homes in Southern California. They gave up their time off, left their homes and families and traveled hundreds of miles to work 20-hour shifts facing flames and smoke with the chance of injury or death confronting them non-stop.

David Bright is a police officer. The men and women who wear the badge go to work every day knowing there is an outside chance they will never see their loved ones again.

Like firefighters, they receive their PERS or retirement as part of their pay – 9 percent on top of the wages - which is then taken out on the spot and directed into retirement for tax reasons that benefit the employee. Yes, Bright receives overtime. It was a fifth of his base salary last year.

You ask: How does that happen? Shouldn’t the city be stingier?

Yea, that’d be a good move. The next time a burglary suspect is spotted or else if someone pops a car and cops see it but they are within an hour of completing their shift, maybe they should just ignore it. You’ve got to avoid OT, right? After all, the chase and arrests may take 15 minutes or so, evidence gathering on the scene another half hour and then there is the booking and paperwork. The law is funny that way. They want all of the information that may be used to take away someone’s liberty put down as soon as possible and not after an officer returns from three days off.

Ever witness a crime? I have. A mother on drugs rammed a car stopped at a traffic light 15 years ago on East Yosemite Avenue, jumped out of the car while she left the engine running and fled to what was then Lyon’s restaurant. Did I mention she left her 4 year-old son strapped in the baby seat in the rear seat?

Four others witnessed the accident as well. One turned off the engine and the stereo that was turned all the way up; another comforted the baby while I and the other gentleman took out after the woman to make sure police would be able to find her.

To make a long story short we were all summoned to court to testify including the officer who took the report. We had to be there at 8 a.m. sharp as did the officer who happened to have the day off. I was there but none of the other three witnesses.

The defense attorney kept coming out to check in the waiting area. This went on until 12:15 p.m. when a court officer told us we were no longer needed that the defendant took a plea bargain. I asked the officer what that was all about. He said it was normal for attorneys to wait out witnesses if they could. A police officer’s report isn’t enough to convict people guilty of crimes. It takes witnesses. They were hoping I would leave. As for the officer, if he didn’t show up, the judge wouldn’t have been too happy and could easily have dismissed the case.

The officer ended up with 4.5 hours of overtime. Perhaps the city can adopt an OT policy that essentially lets criminals go free.

Then there is the issue of officers or firefighters covering over shifts during periods of heavy illness.

Why would a planning technician have overtime? To move projects forward in a timely manner. Who pays for the overtime? Actually in most cases it is the applicant based on fees the project is charged. Is that overtime therefore obscene?

Then there are those who work extra hours on a regular basis so the city can save hiring a full-time replacement with benefits. Is it wise to pay OT then if you can save two to three times as much in salary and benefits?

What if the figures you see a city employee make contains other things such as vacation buy out? Or what if it contains compensation for someone working out of class such as Karen McLaughlin when she was interim city manager for six months?

Why would you want to explain what is reflected in actual pay when it is just so much more fun to throw out dollars tied to every worker’s name right down to clerks and garbage collectors and just say it’s all about information?
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