Following the lead of the East Bay Times (Response to "Richmond's compensation is driving its budget deficit (East Bay Times guest commentary)" May 27, 2016) and KQED (Open Letter to KQED Reporter Andrew Stelzer - False Promises of Fixed Streets in Richmond? June 1, 2016), Breitbart News has joined the media mob mentality with yet another inaccurate and gratuitous hit piece on Richmond (http://www.breitbart.com/california/2016/06/02/richmond-fire-chief-makes-560k-town-avg-income-26k/amp/#_=_).
Considering the quality of the source (Breibart), I should probably let this go, but the inaccuracies are already being amplified on Nextdoor and Facebook and need to be addressed.
Breitbart’s headline screams, “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.”
Not true. According to the State of California Employment Development Department (http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/data/labor-force-and-unemployment-for-cities-and-census-areas.html) , the April 2016 unemployment rate in Richmond is 5.0 percent, not 12 percent. Richmond’s unemployment rate is the same as the national unemployment rate and less that the California rate. Breitbart’s author of this article, Chris Street, missed this fact by 7 percentage points, which doesn’t give you a lot of confidence in the rest of what he had to say.
Let’s take the next one, “Richmond, California’s fire chief made $560,000 in salary and benefits in 2014.” It turns out that the chief in question worked 35 years, and the $560,000 was for his final year of compensation, not his salary in a normal work year. This number included accumulated vacation and sick leave totaling $286,233, an amount earned by the fire chief that the city of Richmond was legally required to pay upon his retirement. The current Richmond fire chief’s salary is only $213,900 plus benefits, That is comparable to other cities of the same size and complexity in California http://www.sacbee.com/site-services/databases/article2573210.html). Remember, Richmond has California’s second largest oil refinery and 32 miles of shoreline, adding risks, firefighting and hazardous material requirements that most cities don’t have. The largest refinery is in El Segundo, a tiny town of 16,000 that pays its fire chief $253,774. The fire chief does not get paid overtime, and his CaPERS retirement benefit is based on his normal salary, not his final year payout.
Chris Street then draws on the erroneous East Bay Times guest editorial to compare the number of city employees in Richmond to Albany and Concord, which makes no sense. Richmond bears as much resemblance to Albany as a Great Dane resembles a Chihuahua. The two cities are completely different. Richmond has a population of nearly 110,000, a General Fund budget of over $140 million and operates a port, a wastewater system, a housing authority and an Employment and Training Department. Albany has a population of only 19,192 and a General Fund budget of about $23 million – and no port, no wastewater system, no housing authority and no Employment and Training Department. .
After making irrelevant comparisons between Albany and Richmond, Breitbart repeats what the East Bay Times carried about Concord. “While Richmond has one city employee for every 144 residents, Concord only has one city employee for every 390 residents.” There is a good reason for this. Concord doesn’t have several major departments that Richmond has, including a Fire Department, Library, a Port, Employment and Training Department, and a Housing Authority, which account for 195 Richmond employees. Concord receives all of these services from Contra Costa County.
Breitbart then jumped on Richmond for having a $24 million Pension contribution to CalPERS. Well, Berkeley is about the same size as Richmond and has a $37 million annual pension contribution. Pensions are a problem for almost every city in California, as well as the state, itself. But why pick on Richmond?
Finally, Breitbart relied on some flakey non-credible Internet source to note that Richmond “was rated sixth in the ‘Most Ghetto Cities in California.’” Notwithstanding the questionable source, he neglected to mention that the five cities that beat out Richmond in ghetto-ness include Oakland, Sacramento, National City, Compton and San Bernardino. Yet he picked out Richmond to write about.
Every city has problems, challenges and issues. Richmond, however, happens to be the second poorest of 101 cities in the Bay Area, ranked only above San Pablo in median family income. We struggle, and we have to be creative and perhaps work harder than any other city to provide our residents with a decent quality of life. I don’t understand why some reporters think that beating up on Richmond is great news.
For those of you who may not know what Breitbart News is, Bloomberg calls it “the crusading right-wing populist website that’s a lineal descendant of the Drudge Report (its late founder, Andrew Breitbart, spent years apprenticing with Matt Drudge) and a haven for people who think Fox News is too polite and restrained.”
Tom Butt, Mayor of Richmond
Richmond, CA Fire Chief Makes $560K; Avg. Income $26K
by Chriss W. Street 2 Jun 2016
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.”