City of Eureka says, “Here, fire fighters, have an extra $1 Million dollars for sleeping on the job”

With all the hullabaloo going around this week about Eureka’s budget reviews and the need for change in the way the CALPERS pension system works, we couldn’t resist the urge to look a little more deeply into the issue.

To be honest, it’s mostly because we thought that Parks and Rec. Director Miles Slattery and Fireman Jeff Broberg verbal throw down was absolutely hilarious. As you may recall (or may not, if you were too lazy to click on the link), Mr. Slattery took aim at the City of Eureka’s overtime payments to fire fighters and harshly criticized the practice.

Miles Slattery actually made some strong points in his Op-Ed on Monday, even though he was such a hypocritical asshole when he did it. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the safety of the public if we had more firefighters working shorter shifts?

Well, here’s some math that makes us think that yeah, maybe it would be.  Strap in, kids – we actually did some research this time around.

According to our good friends over at Transparent California, the City of Eureka alone paid out $1,012,174.42 in overtime to fire companies over the years 2011-2013.

Again, that’s $1,012,174.42. In overtime alone; that has nothing to do with salaries or benefits.

"One Million Dollars for sleeping muhahahaha"

“One Million Dollars for sleeping muhahahaha”

Yes, that is spread over a 3 year period. However, if you check out this really cool article by the Sacramento Bee  (and use the handy-dandy calculator for police and fire service salaries that goes along with it), you will see that the average yearly salary for a Eureka fire engineer was $72,778 during that period as well.

Now, bear with me, as I figured all of this out with an abacus and lines drawn in the dirt, but:

$1,012,174.42 / $72,778 = 13.907, or almost 14.

Which means that the same overtime pay shelled out by the city from 2011-2103 could have covered nearly 14 salaried fire engineer positions over that same period.

What’s that you say? Fire fighters make way freakin’ more than that due to their benefits? You are correct! What do you win? The need to pay even higher taxes!

According to the same Sacramento Bee article (using 2013 data), the average fire fighter in California took home about $125,000 bucks a year in total compensation. It should be noted that number is certainly a little bit lower for Humboldt’s finest.

But even if we use the higher number, we get this:

$1,012,174.42 / $125,000 = 8.09

Which means that when taking all forms of compensation into account, the amount that Eureka paid to fire fighters in overtime compensation from 2011-2013 could have paid for 8 more full-time fire fighters over that same time.

Remember how Eureka has one of the highest unfunded CALPERS pension burdens of all cities in California? Well, every time a someone gets paid overtime like Eureka fire fighters receive, it bumps up the contribution that the City of Eureka has to give to their pension fund.

All of which means that the City keeps digging itself a deeper and deeper hole, fire service gets more expensive for less effective public protection as the fire department is forced to make cuts, and, as always, average Joes like you and I get screwed in the process.

Good job, Eureka. Thank goodness we’ve got parklets on the way though!

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8 Responses to City of Eureka says, “Here, fire fighters, have an extra $1 Million dollars for sleeping on the job”

  1. BlueSkies67 says:

    You’re way oversimplifying the issue of how that extra money gets distributed and the way the pension system works. Having more firefighter would mean more pension accounts the city would have to pay into.


    • BlueSkies –

      Glad you are back! We didn’t say the answer was as simple as re-purposing that money to bring on new firefighters. We merely wanted to point out what the potential value of that huge amount of money actually represents. We actually did think that Miles Slattery had a good point when he suggested the fire force reshuffling how shifts work in their department to more closely resemble the 10-hour shifts of the police force. It makes sense on a lot of levels, and we’ve yet to hear a convincing argument as to why it would be a negative change. But we would love to hear some counter points.

      We also were interested by Chief Mills’ budget presentation to the Eureka City Council in which he mentioned restructuring compensation plans for police officers to more closely resemble 401(k) plans of private industries. If the head of the police department thinks cutting down the pay of his own officers would help, it’s definitely at least worth looking into!


      • Not A Native says:

        In Eureka, as in the rest of HumCo, the reason is always the same. Tradition. That’s how we’ve always done it and it would be an insult to the memory of grand pappy to change it.


      • We feel your pain, N.A.N.! THC is all for living by the maxim that if ain’t broke, don’t fix it; unfortunately it’s becoming increasingly clear that the government system is on the verge of completely breaking its promise to Humboldt residents by failing to provide leadership and meet the demands of the people who depend on them. What’s more, the way the pension system is playing out at the moment, it looks like the county itself will be broke in the not-too-distant future – there’s just not enough money around to support the current compensation policies. Check out our upcoming post about how much certain big wigs are making in the Humboldt County system.


    • Cousin Eddie says:

      Well, better just give up then.


  2. Bill Smith says:

    Your numbers are based on a two year period and you then try and use that equation to explain salarys for one year. Oops….your math is off.


    • Cousin Eddiie says:

      Read it again, it says they could have paid for 8 more over the period, not eight per year. Regardless, seems like there should be a pretty easy way to cut that overtime if they wanted to.


  3. Just Watchin says:

    Timely response….a year and a half later


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