Despite a $10.2 million budget deficit, 12 percent unemployment, 17 percent poverty rate, and a $25,769 average annual income, Richmond, California’s fire chief made $560,000 in salary and benefits in 2014.
Transparent California (TC), a nonpartisan think tank that gathers public employee compensation through public record requests, recently analyzed 2014 data for cities in the Bay Area to determine which community had the highest public employee burden.
TC found that with a population of just 106,000, the City of Richmond has the highest burden, with 735 year-round, full-time public employees.
Consistent with the fire chief’s luxurious pay and benefits, more than 20 Richmond employees earned at least $300,000 in salary and benefits, and over 200 city employees received more than $200,000 in total compensation. The average full-time city employee in Richmond earned $130,000 in total compensation in 2014.
Faced this year with a $10.2 million budget deficit that must be balanced by June 30, the City Council announced plans to preserve municipal employee compensation by across-the-board reductions in vital city services, like street paving and library hours.
As the sixth-poorest larger city in the state, Richmond’s public employment levels and compensation dwarf its neighbors.
The adjacent City of Albany, with 5.7 percent unemployment, 6.2 percent poverty, and an average income of $40,426, only paid its police chief, its highest paid employee, total salary and benefits of $255,000 in 2014.
In nearby Concord, with a population of 125,000, the city employed 319 year-round, full-time public employees. While Richmond has one city employee for every 144 residents, Concord has just one city employee for every 390 residents. This explains why Richmond’s total employee compensation in 2014 was $116 million, versus $54 million for Concord.
A major portion of the City of Richmond’s bloated annual employment burden includes $24,795,689 in annual pension contributions to CalPERS. According to the California Public Policy Center, Richmond paid the third-highest pension contribution as a percentage of revenue of any city in California, at 10.59 percent.
Richmond also has one of the lowest pension funding ratios in California, at 61 percent. The $446 million shortfall works out to about $4,150 for every city resident. That does not include the completely unfunded $126 million shortfall for lifetime retiree health benefits. Adding $1,189 for health care, each resident in the impoverished town of Richmond is responsible for $5,339 in public employee retirement costs.
Richmond’s situation is especially shocking because the city has been collecting a special pension tax of $140 for every $100,000 in assessed valuation since 1978. With an average property value of $402,200, Richmond home owners pay an extra $563 in property taxes each year.
The popular millennial blog, RoadSnacks, recently used the “Urban Dictionary” definition of ghetto: “urban; of or relating to (inner) city life” and “poor; of or relating to the poor life,” to rate most depressed communities in the “Golden State.”
Based on household income levels; high school graduation rates; number of convenience stores; number of drug stores; number of discount stores; and levels of crime, Richmond was rated sixth in the “Most Ghetto Cities in California.”
But if RoadSnacks had rated cities for highest public employee wages and benefits, Richmond would have been the “Golden City.”