Public agency pay on the increase – salaries have risen 25 percent in five years | SierraSun.com

Public agency pay on the increase – salaries have risen 25 percent in five years

Scott Hess

Due mostly to the rising cost of living, the top-level employees at the local public agencies have received, on average, approximately a 23 percent raise since 1998.

The largest increases were seen at the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, The Nevada County Sheriff’s Department and the Truckee-Donner Public Utilities District. Dennis Williams, the new TTUSD superintendent, is receiving $135,000 for his services this year – up nearly 32 percent from the 1998 superintendent’s $92,000 annual salary.

Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal’s salary jumped almost 30 percent – from $83,266 to $118,368 – and TDPUD’s General Manager Peter Holzmeister’s annual salary increased from $91,540 in 1998 to $123,600 – an approximately 26 percent change – in 2003.

The lowest increases were seen at the Truckee Sanitary District – where President O.R. Butterfield’s salary changed almost 19 percent, from $105,144 to $129,600 – and Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District’s General Manager Steve Randall, whose salary increased just over 14 percent, from $78,000 to $90,876.

Reasons for the increases

Most public agencies said cost of living was the number one factor in the salary increase for their top-level employee(s).

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The TSD, the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency, the Truckee Fire Protection District and the TDRPD all said the increases were due to cost of living.

However, different agencies had different reasons.

“We started comparing Nevada County to other counties,” said Donna Nelson from the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department. “We’re bringing [Royal’s salary] more in line with what other counties pay.”

Likewise, TTUSD assistant superintendent Jo Lynn Wilson said they tried to match what other school districts were giving their superintendent.

Also, like the TDPUD and the Northstar Community Services District, a board of directors determines the top employee’s salary.

Cost of living and the CPI

While the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics no longer publishes cost of living statistics, a good indicator, the BLS said, is the Consumer Price Index.

According to the BLS, “The CPI is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.”

While this is not completely interchangeable with cost of living, the CPI shows some of the same general trends as the cost of living index, said BLS Information Specialist Todd Johnson.

“[The CPI] is the closest thing that the government puts out to being a cost of living index,” Johnson said. “The CPI is more generally…the cost of buying the same goods and services over time.”

Cost of living, Johnson explained, would take into account if one product’s cost increased greatly, resulting in consumers buying a cheaper product. The cost of living index would allow for, “When beef gets more expensive, people will go buy chicken,” Johnson said.

According to the BLS, there has been approximately a 19.1 percent increase from 1998 to 2003 in the CPI for the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose area, the closest to Truckee. The Western Region’s CPI – which encompasses Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington – jumped only 14.5 percent in the past five years.

While these numbers are not specific to Truckee, the BLS says the local CPIs are too “volatile,” and it is generally better to study the regional statistics.

Whichever number is closer to Truckee’s – 19.1 or 14.5 percent – it is clear that most public agencies have awarded their top employee(s) with more than the regional averages.

The explanation for the two highest salary increases – at the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department and the TTUSD – was that they were trying to match other similar agencies, comparable in size to their own.

As the cost of living increases, so do salaries for public officials. Just how much depends on many factors and differs from one agency to another.

For more information on the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Price Index, visit http://www.bls.org.