Big paychecks for small public agencies

Many small and little-known public agencies in Sonoma County paid managers more than $100,000 a year, according to 2009 salary data released by the state controller.

The salary information for small special districts is the latest in a series of payroll reports intended to shed light on how government has spent money during a time of significant budget cuts.

"The purpose of this is really to inform local taxpayers," said Jacob Roper, spokesman for Controller John Chiang. "It certainly has raised the question for some local taxpayers as to whether those salaries are justified, and there have been other taxpayers who looked at their cities and said, &‘Hey, we're getting a good deal here.'"

The controller last week released salaries for employees of library, mosquito abatement, conservation, air quality, airport and other agencies.

Some of the largest pay went to heads of the little-known Redwood Empire Municipal Insurance Fund, the Redwood Empire School Insurance Group, the North Bay Cooperative Library District and the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District.

The highest salary for Sonoma County agencies covered by the data was paid to the general manager of the Sonoma County Open Space Authority, who reported $164,626 in wages in 2009.

The district, which listed 26 employees that year, has since become part of Sonoma County government and reduced its payroll expenses by 10 percent, in part through voluntary departures, said Bill Keene, general manager.

The district eliminated several positions including the assistant general manager, who was paid $121,576 in 2009.

"We're lean in terms of our staffing, compared to other districts that are similar to ours," Keene said.

The second-highest wage, $160,149, went to the general manager of the Redwood Empire Municipal Insurance Fund, which listed 10 employees' salaries. The Sonoma-based district handles workers compensation and property insurance for 15 North Coast cities from Sonoma to Eureka. That general manager has since retired, said Mark Ferguson, the current general manager.

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