Critics say public workers make more than they deserve, but officials say government work relies on higher set of skills

  • 10/23/2007: A1: UNPRECEDENTED LOCAL EFFORT: About 90 firefighters from 20 North Coast agencies head to Southern California fire lines / A5

    PC: Fire engines from Cloverdale, Windsor, Petaluma, Healdsburg and Rohnert Park depart from Petaluma to aid in the Southern California wildfires on Monday morning, October 22, 2007. (The Press Democrat/ Christopher Chung)

Nearly 1,200 city and county workers in Sonoma County were paid more than $100,000 last year, a plateau that is reached by a higher percentage of workers in the public sector than their counterparts in the private sector, according to a Press Democrat analysis of local government salaries.

A new database, compiled by the state Controller's Office, reveals how much money was paid to each of the 8,618 city and county workers in Sonoma County last year, from a lifeguard in Rohnert Park who earned a total of $14 to the county's top administrator, who was paid $282,348 before he left his job.

The median earnings for a worker in a city or county job in Sonoma County were $56,085 last year, according to a database analysis. By comparison, the median earnings for workers across the county — including private and public sector jobs — were $31,190 last year, the U.S Census Bureau reported.

"It doesn't seem equitable," said Fred Levin, executive director of the 500-member Sonoma County Taxpayers Association. "Are we getting the service we deserve for the money? We know the answer is no."

But Santa Rosa's newly hired city manager, Kathy Millison, said the payroll figures are a reflection that much government work relies on people with advanced education and extensive experience.

"We pay for a higher level of skill sets," Millison said of employees earning six figures. "When you look down the list, you see attorneys, accountants, engineers and most of the executives."

The highest-paid jobs in local government are held by managers and public safety workers. Police and fire account for 20 percent of city and county workers but 29 percent of payroll. The state's list gives salaries by position but does not identify workers by name.

Overall, city and county employees in Sonoma County were paid $492.7 million last year.

While corporate executives can earn far more than government employees, a larger proportion of government workers are members of the six-figure club.

The analysis shows that 13.7 percent of city and county government workers in Sonoma County were paid more than $100,000 last year — a level achieved by just 8 percent of all public and private sector workers in the county, according to Census figures.

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