RIVERBANK -- The average city salary has jumped 32 percent in four years, from $47,205 in 2005 to $62,467 last year.
City pay got a big boost after a 2005-06 job classification and compensation study conducted by L.B. Hayhurst & Associates on the city's behalf. That study has been a sticking point for embattled Councilman Jesse James White, who wants to repeal raises prompted by the study.
He's been in the limelight since May, when he was arrested on suspicion of possessing small amounts of cocaine and marijuana in violation of his probation. White has charged that the arrest sprung from the desire of other local government officials to silence him.
The consultant's study found that Riverbank's salaries were, on average, 4 percent less than the norm compared with such cities as Oakdale, Los Banos, Patterson and Galt. Some of the biggest pay gaps -- and subsequent raises -- were for managers.
For instance, City Manager Rich Holmer's $118,945 salary was 17 percent below the norm, according to the study, and he received a 17 percent raise. Holmer now earns $157,682.
The study found that three department heads were underpaid by at least 30 percent, though two received raises that did not close the gap.
In 2006, Holmer was the only city employee to earn more than $100,000. Last year, Holmer and the city's six department heads topped $100,000.
The average pay for Holmer and city department heads is $120,625. The average is $53,985 for the remaining city employees.
Not all employees received raises based on the compensation study. Some were found to earn at least as much as their counterparts in other cities.
It had been at least a decade since the city had commissioned a job classification and salary survey, which are commonplace in the public sector. City officials have said the city was having a hard time recruiting highly skilled workers because the pay was not competitive.
City employees also can receive merit increases based on their performance and cost-of-living increases based on agreements reached between their bargaining units and the city.
Riverbank's pay is not unusual for local governments. Public salaries in the county tended to rise through 2009, when local governments began trimming payroll to balance their budgets because of the recession, according to records The Bee has obtained.
Pay for public employees in the Northern San Joaquin Valley is relatively high compared with private sector salaries, said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific Eberhardt School of Business in Stockton.
"I think our employees earn their money," Holmer said. "We are a small staff and have gotten smaller. Riverbank is a very progressive city. Our managers, for our size, we're paid a fair salary. But our managers are among the top in the county. I've worked in a lot of places. I know what a good staff is."
Weathering the downturn
Holmer said Riverbank has weathered the economic downturn better than other local cities and has had the money to pay its workers and embark on major projects such as the Crossroads shopping center, downtown beautification and acquiring the former Army ammunition plant for development as an industrial park.
But Riverbank is taking steps to rein in pay and benefits. For the 2010-11 budget year, which started Thursday, all city employees will be taking 12 furlough days to help the city balance its budget.
That amounts to about a 4.4 percent pay cut, except for the city's 11 middle managers, who are entitled to a 4 percent cost-of-living increase based on their contract with the city. Their pay cut will be offset somewhat by the cost-of-living increase.
City Council members also have talked about making sure compensation costs are sustainable over the long term, a concern expressed by many local governments because of rising health care and pension costs.
Riverbank pays the full cost of benefits for its employees. But Holmer said the city is working on having employees contribute 5 percent of their salaries to their pensions and capping the city's contribution for health insurance for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.