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Grand Jury Report Reveals Santa Barbara County’s Highest-Paid Government Officials

Highest-paid employees include department heads and managers, with public health director Takashi Wada topping the list

The most recent Santa Barbara County Grand Jury Report on compensation spotlights the highest-paid government workers in county government, cities, school districts, special districts and colleges.

With lagging tax revenues, jurisdictions all over the county have struggled to balance budgets as salary and benefit costs continue to increase. Base salaries, employer-paid health care and employer-paid pensions all contribute to total compensation and cost to the taxpayers, which is significantly higher than employees’ take-home pay.

The highest-paid employee in the county structure is Public Health Director Takashi Wada, with $281,626 in fiscal year 2010. The county also paid $70,581 into his pension, which is only topped by the county’s contribution for Sheriff Bill Brown of $74,489.

County CEO Chandra Waller was recently hired to replace Mike Brown, who retired, and that position’s total compensation is listed at $265,501.

Other top wage-earners in the county include department heads and managers, a trend echoed in every other jurisdiction surveyed in the Grand Jury Report.

Cities

Santa Barbara and Santa Maria have the largest populations — about 92,000 — and the largest city payrolls in the county. The cities pay their chief administrators the most, with Santa Barbara’s Jim Armstrong at $245,062 and Santa Maria’s Tim Ness paid $260,148 in total compensation.

Santa Barbara has 188 more employees and spends $71.6 million more on salaries and benefits than Santa Maria, with $124.5 million in costs for fiscal year 2010 out of its entire $281 million city budget. All city employees, including City Council members, are eligible for California Public Employee Retirement System pensions after five years of service.

Santa Barbara’s Public Works director, Parks & Recreation director and city attorney, to name a few, make more than county employees with the same titles.

Nearby, Goleta City Manager Dan Singer makes $209,756, followed by city attorney Tim Giles at $191,999, which is just $8,000 less than the compensation paid to District Attorney Joyce Dudley.

Within all other jurisdictions in the county — Buellton, Carpinteria, Guadalupe, Lompoc and Solvang — the highest-paid employee is the now-retired chief administrative officer of Buellton, with $177,164 in total compensation.

Any agency’s contributions to pensions tend to be highest with public safety employees, who get “3 percent at 50” in Santa Barbara — that’s 3 percent per year of service (so 30 years would be 90 percent) of the last year’s salary for a pension.

Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez, the only department head to be issued a car, had $81,850 paid by the city into his pension in 2010. That’s more than the county’s contributions for Brown and County Fire Chief Michael Dyer. With a salary of $195,639, Sanchez would earn $58,691 per year through his pension if he retired now at 10 years of service.

For Santa Barbara and other cities, CalPERS rates will increase dramatically at least through 2014 to make up for 2009’s investment losses, costing millions of dollars more to maintain the same number of employees, or even fewer.

Sanchez is also one of three listed as owing money for home or other loans, which includes the Employee Mortgage Loan Assistance Program. The city of Santa Barbara has now suspended it, but the program gave qualified employees 15 percent loans while employees came up with 5 percent and got conventional financing for the other 80 percent. The city is owed about $4 million from those loans.

Library director Irene Macias owes $115,575 and Public Works director Christine Anderson owes $94,650. Sanchez is shown to owe $402,904 because he was given primary financing from the city for his home as a recruitment incentive.

It’s not unusual for cities to attract potential candidates by providing a loan with interest that’s most likely more affordable than conventional financing, according to Finance Director Bob Samario. Sanchez is the only city employee Samario knew of who had his primary financing loaned by the city.

Elected Officials

Another interesting area is comparing salaries of elected officials. County supervisors are paid about $84,000 and receive $22,000 in county pension contributions each year.

The Santa Barbara City Council is far above the rest of the pack, paying its members with salary, health payments and $8,193 in pension contributions for total compensation of about $47,500. Not all cities give pensions to their elected officials, and it was only recently that Santa Barbara’s council salaries were tied to the median income, Samario said.

In comparison, Santa Maria’s council members get $17,109, Lompoc’s $10,170, Buellton’s $6,180 and the other cities pay less than that.

Schools

On the South Coast, school districts range from very small to very large, and salaries don’t match up to the size of the district. Many of the small elementary districts are Basic Aid-funded and more financially stable, which Santa Barbara School District officials have mentioned when thinking about the salary to offer the successor to retiring Superintendent Brian Sarvis.

SBCC President Andreea Serban earns $244,860 in total compensation.

In comparison, local school district superintendent salaries are as follows:

» Cold Spring School District — $134,223

» Goleta Union School District — $166,014

» Hope Elementary School District — $141,500

» Montecito Union School District — $243,537

» Santa Barbara School District — $205,153

Special Districts

For special districts — everything from cemeteries to water districts — the report examined boards of directors and administrative staff.

The highest total compensation employees for some South Coast districts are as follows:

» Montecito Fire Protection District fire chief — $213,439

» Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District general manager — $169,769

» Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District general manager — $154,987

» Goleta Sanitary District general manager — $259,822

» Goleta West Sanitary District general manager — $125,733

» Montecito Sanitary District general manager — $186,702

» Carpinteria Sanitary District general manager — $144,022

» Goleta Water District chief financial officer — $178,974

» Carpinteria Water District general manager — $139,867

» Montecito Water District general manager — $155,357

Click here for the Grand Jury Report to view all of the county’s compensation information.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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