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LM fire chief pay package tops $350K
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Lathrop Manteca Fire District Chief Gene Neely was compensated $96,932 more than former Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters last year.
According to publicly accessible documents, Neely – who has been Lathrop’s full-time fire chief since 2011 – was paid a base salary of $170,015 in 2015. With “other” pay, that total amount ballooned up to $196,722.  Waters — who retired earlier this year — had a base salary of $161,419 or almost $6,000 less than Neely. Add in what Waters made as a strike team leader on wildfires for the state, Waters made $190,447. When Neely’s strike team pay is added, Neely made $6,330 more than Waters.
The City of Manteca last year paid $63,130 into Waters’ retirement while Lathrop Manteca Fire paid $130,000 into Neely’s retirement. Overall, Waters’ 2015 compensation was $253,877 compared to Neely’s $350,809. The difference came to $96,932.
And in a year-by-year breakdown on his annual salary, Neely’s base pay has increased by 49 percent since the first year he was sworn into the district’s top position.
But those numbers, Neely said, are misleading.
According to Neely, the reason that his base pay has jumped up so much from year-to-year – including a 26 percent on-paper increase from 2014 to 2015 – is because of the amount of time that he has spent away fighting wildfires as part of a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection strike team – spending as much as six weeks away from his normal duties, and in some instances working around-the-clock.
That additional pay, he said – which is assessed as “straight pay” regardless of how many consecutive hours that he has worked – makes it appear from year-to-year that Neely’s salary is actually more inflated than it is.
He said that he only gets the standard base cost of living adjustment that is afforded to all employees of the fire district.
Neely’s position was echoed by Fire Board Director Bennie Gatto, who said that Neely was offered a raise when he agreed to take the position of Fire Chief because he would be forfeiting the ability to make any overtime money.
Gatto also said that the big reason that numbers might appear inflated is because the money that goes into his time leading a strike team to battle some of California’s worst wildfires is included. Gatto said he wasn’t aware of the “other pay” that was listed on the State Controller’s transparency page – which varies from $16,612 in his first year, up to $41,155 in 2013, and dropped back down to $26,707 last year.
As a result of that, his total compensation – which includes the district’s payment to his retirement – has also risen significantly. Because the time as a wildland firefighter – the straight pay portion of which is reimbursed to the district by the State of California – is included in his annual pay and goes towards his retirement. The state does not reimburse local agencies for increased retirement costs associated with strike pay.
Neely’s total compensation has gone up from $207,493 in 2011 to $350,809 last year.
The President of the Lathrop Manteca Firefighters Association, Shawn Wooten, declined to comment because he hasn’t seen the numbers.
When Neely took over the district in 2011 it was ravaged by the collapse of the California housing market, and when the property assessments were adjusted for the value of loss after the crash, the district has no other choice but to go to the voters for a property tax increase.
Ultimately that vote failed. Then in collaboration with the City of Lathrop, Measure C was approved for the ballot and approved overwhelmingly by voters in November of 2012 – giving the district 40 percent of the one-percent sales tax increase that was approved, amounting to an estimated $800,000 in the first full year of collection.
That money was initially used to retain eight full-time firefighters that were being paid from a grant that was about to expire. At the time the district said that if Measure C had failed, they would have had to lay off some of those firefighters and brown out some of the rural stations because of staffing levels.
Neely said that he wants to be as transparent as possible about his compensation across the board, and reiterated that the numbers on paper may be misleading because of the extensive work that he has done during the summer months that is incorporated into his salary – nothing that we was recently promoted in that capacity to the position of Division Group Supervisor.