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Firefighters Among City's Top Earners

Firefighters Among City's Top Earners

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Contra Costa Times via YellowBrix

November 02, 2010

LONG BEACH – It’s a little late, but compensation data on city of Long Beach employees is now online at the state controller’s website.

The information, which is available at, lists the pay ranges for each city position, how much each worker actually earned in 2009, pension details and the cost of other benefits.

Among the Long Beach managers who are unsurprisingly at the top of the pay list, several firefighters also were top earners, the data show.

“It’s no big secret that firefighters in general make overtime,” Fire Chief Alan Patalano said Monday.

State Controller John Chiang announced the new compensation reporting requirement for all California cities and counties in August in the wake of the city of Bell pay scandal. When Chiang released the database numbers last week, Long Beach was among the cities that hadn’t submitted their employee compensation data on time.

City Manager Pat West blamed the delay on the fact that Long Beach is one of only five California cities whose fiscal year begins in October, rather than July. When Chiang made his announcement, Long Beach officials were in the middle of a difficult budget process as they worked to eliminate an $18.5 million general fund deficit.

With the numbers now reported, the top city earners are what would be expected.

Port Executive Director Richard Steinke earned $278,372 in 2009, City Manager Pat West earned $249,271, and City Attorney Bob Shannon earned $241,123, rounding out the top three highest-paid Long Beach officials, according to the database.

What may be surprising is that several firefighters, fire battalion chiefs and fire captains weren’t far behind.

The controller’s database lists only pay ranges for each position, so workers’ exact base pay isn’t shown. The 2009 compensation is exact, however, based on overtime and any other extra compensation that workers received.

Firefighters earn between $59,233 and $72,741 a year in base pay. However, the actual pay for three top-earning firefighters in 2009 was $185,588, $174,326 and $170,157.

Battalion chiefs earn between $97,855 and $120,814, but one battalion chief earned $187,422 and another earned $182,827.

Long Beach’s top-earning fire captain, whose base pay range is between $81,281 and $101,030, earned $171,220 last year.

Patalano said the figures for firefighters may be a little misleading. Paramedics don’t have their own job title and are considered firefighters, but they receive a 16 percent pay increase for being qualified as paramedics, the chief said.

That means that not all of the pay that some firefighters received above their base salary may have been from overtime, Patalano said.

Still, he said that many firefighters do get overtime, but that in the long run it saves the city money because of the additional cost of paying pensions and other benefits for each new employee. With recent budget cuts, the Fire Department is now about 20 firefighters down from its budgeted level, Patalano said.

The department also keeps a close eye on firefighters to ensure that they aren’t working to a point that it creates a safety hazard, he added.

“There’s not a scheme, and there’s not a system,” Patalano said. “If a firefighter’s here earning overtime money, it’s because they’re filling a spot for somebody who’s not here.”