2018 a decisive year for reining in pensions

A great column by Jody Morales on the impact court rulings in 2018 might have for public pensions:

Many noted reporters and columnists proclaim that every new tax is a pension tax. We of Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans agree.

The city of San Rafael is struggling to continue services without new taxes, but it seems both unlikely and impossible that they can do so.

The Transportation Authority of Marin is revving up to once again raise the sales tax cap.

The Marin Municipal Water District initiated rate increases to occur over the next few years, shifting pension costs onto its customers.

These are but a few local agencies turning to taxpayers to pay more to maintain an unsustainable system.

Whether or not our local agencies, including city councils and the Board of Supervisors, have the courage to put an end to ever-increasing taxes, rates and fees, coupled with reduction or elimination of services, is yet to be seen.

Read the rest at the MarinIJ.com website.


85% of Marin County’s special district workers collected over $100,000

Today, Transparent California released 2014 compensation data for Marin County’s 20 largest special districts.

The top 5 earners were:

  1. Southern Marin Fire Chief James Irving: $374,456
  2. Novato Fire Chief Mark Heine: $370,145
  3. Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit general manager Farhad Mansourian: $352,262
  4. Novato Fire Deputy Chief Adam Brolan: $340,874
  5. Central Marin Sanitation general manager Jason Dow: $333,590

For all 20 special districts, the average full-time employee received $153,204 in total compensation. 85 percent of all full-time employees received at least $100,000 in total compensation. The table below reports these values, and additional information, for each district.

Average compensation for Marin County’s 20 largest special districtsMarinSDs2

The far right column displays the district’s unfunded liability for their respective retirement plans, per resident served. This data comes from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research’s Pension Tracker website.

To download the original Excel file, click here.

To view a specific district’s 2014 compensation report, simply click their name in the list below:

Belvedere-Tiburon Library Agency
Central Marin Police Authority
Central Marin Sanitation Agency
Kentfield Fire Protection District
Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District (Marin)
Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District
Marin Clean Energy
Marin Municipal Water
Marinwood Community Services District
North Marin Water District
Novato Fire Protection District
Novato Sanitary District (Marin)
Ross Valley Fire Service
Sanitary District No. 1 (Marin)
Sanitary District No. 5 (Marin)
Sausalito-Marin City Sanitary (Marin)
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District
Southern Marin Fire Protection District
Tamalpais Community Services District
Tiburon Fire Protection District

Compensation is defined as total wages plus the employer cost of retirement and health benefits. Full-time employees are defined as those receiving a salary equal or greater to the “annual salary minimum” reported for their position.

To view the entire dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, visit TransparentCalifornia.com.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Transparent California, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Analysis of Employee Compensation at the Marin Municipal Water District

The Marin Municipal Water District recently proposed a rate hike that would increase most residents’ water bills by an average 27 percent.

The proposal comes on the heels of a recently released “cost of service analysis” that concluded the District would need to significantly increase revenues to offset their rising costs.

While the analysis treated the District’s costs as a given and, subsequently, determined raising rates was the most prudent course of action, it is always useful to review costs in times of financial distress.

To that end, a review of the District’s personnel costs — which account for nearly 60 percent of total operating funds — would be useful.

Non-utility staff fare best

At the top, the $311,000 compensation package for MMWD’s general counsel is nearly $20,000 more than what the general counsel for California Teachers Retirement System earns, despite the extreme disparity in size and scope of the MMWD and the world’s largest educators-only public pension fund.

The MMWD also appears to employ more and spend higher amounts on public information staff than most similarly-sized agencies. The $188,000 compensation package for the District’s public information officer (PIO) was the 2nd highest of any employee sharing that job title last year and significantly higher than the cost for PIOs at substantially larger agencies such as the State of California ($144k), the City of Anaheim ($141k), and the Los Angeles Unified School District ($139k), according to data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

Additionally, the MMWD employs two public information representatives at an average cost of $120,000 each. These positions are clerical and administrative support roles that require either three years of related work experience with a high school degree or one year of work experience and having completed “college level courses” in relevant fields.

By comparison, the Alameda County Water District does not appear to employ any public information officers and instructs public records requests to be sent to their executive assistant’s attention, suggesting these duties are assigned to existing personnel.

Agency-wide comparison between utility districts

In total, the MMWD spent $172 on employee compensation for each of their 187,500 residents served last year. This is significantly higher than the $104 spent by the North Marin Water District as well as other nearby agencies:


Another approach would be to look at total employee compensation per service connection. MMWD is highest amongst nearby agencies for which comparable data was available:


Market Comparison

A more meaningful assessment of wages paid at the MMWD would factor in the market as a whole, not merely other public agencies. While some positions do not have a clear private sector counterpart, analyzing those that do provides insight into the agency’s overall approach to employee compensation.

The tables below compare the 2014 wages paid to MMWD staff with the most easily comparable job titles and their counterparts in the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City area, as defined by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The San Francisco region was chosen only because there was no Marin-specific region provided by the BLS. Unsurprisingly, the wages reported for the San Francisco-area are all significantly higher than the statewide averages. For the position of administrative assistant, the 75th percentile BLS wage of $54,810 was used instead of the average $44,480 as the MMWD’s job description suggests an above average work load.

Table 1: Average 2014 Salaries of MMWD Employees vs Market

Job Title SF-Area MMWD Difference
Accountant $78,090 $86,691 11%
Treatment Plant Operators $79,060 $96,694 22%
Administrative Assistant $54,810 $68,953 26%
Accounting Clerk $50,000 $65,662 31%
Customer Service Rep $46,830 $61,630 32%

Table 2 incorporates the value of MMWD’s health and retirement benefits and compares that against the BLS wage plus the estimated average private-employer cost of benefits. The treatment plant operator position was excluded as that is predominately a government-specific job.

Table 2: Average 2014 Salaries + Benefits of MMWD Employees vs Market

Job Title San Francisco Area MMWD Difference
Accountant $88,383 $107,669 22%
Accounting Clerk $59,450 $91,216 53%
Customer Service Rep $56,185 $89,425 59%
Administrative Assistant $64,404 $103,120 60%


The above findings understate the compensation premium enjoyed by MMWD staff as they do not include the value of job security, which experts have estimated to be worth anywhere from 3-10 percent of wages, or the cost of retiree health benefits that are provided to district employees after ten years of employment.


A cursory review of the District’s single largest expense — employee compensation — reveals significantly above market levels of pay on an individualized basis for targeted jobs, a strong indicator of the District’s overall approach to employee compensation.

Further, a total employee cost per resident or customer served that is nearly 70 percently higher than the North Marin Water District suggests an excess in the number of personnel employed, in addition to the excessive levels of employee compensation itself.

TRIPLE-dipping Marin County Counsel makes over $432k a year

I’ve heard of public employees double-dipping before (receiving a pension and salary at the same time) but this is the first case of triple-dipping I’ve heard of!

Dick Spotswood at the Marin IJ has a must-read column today: The long-term cost of keeping taxpayers in the dark.

He discussed a Marin County Grand Jury Report that found Marin County governments unlawfully voted to enhance their pension benefits an astounding 36 times over a 5 year period.

The results of these enhancements are $100k+ pensions for government retirees that has left taxpayers responsible to pay a funding shortfall of over $500 million.

Spotswood then reveals the first ever triple-dipper that I’ve heard of:

Marin County Counsel, Steven Woodside, receives an annual $256,636 salary while simultaneously receiving a $95,000 pension from CalPERS and a $82,606 pension from Sonoma County’s pension plan, for a total $432,632 yearly haul.

Of course, without a resource like TransparentCalifornia – that posts public employees names and pay – Mr. Woodside’s lucrative triple-dipping would have remained hidden from the very taxpayers who fund it.

Be sure to read Mr. Spotswood’s entire piece here.