City of Tucson employee salaries grow despite budget problems

Posted: Updated:
By Bryce Potter By Bryce Potter

TUCSON, Ariz. — It's no secret the City of Tucson is facing a budget crisis for the next fiscal year. The city council's latest idea is to ask for voters to approve tax increases for core services. One option they haven't considered is pay cuts for city employees. For the fifth year in a row, Fox 11 examines the top paid city workers. And we found salaries growing at a fast rate. "This is a shameful thing."

Ask a skeptic If the city of Tucson is doing all it can to balance the budget. And these are the kinds of answers you get.

"We the taxpayers of the city are being taken for a long ride. And until the people stand up, they're going to still keep taking advantage of us," says former city council member Emmet McLoughlin.
We're talking about the amount of money the city pays its employees.

The President of the Pima Association of Taxpayers John Kromko thinks the salaries need to be addressed, "This is the elephant in the room. They will never solve the budget problem until they solve this. 'Cause this other stuff comes and goes, this is with us forever."

Our investigation finds well more than 200 employees of the City of Tucson make more than $100,000 a year.

And the numbers are growing. Just 5 years ago not even half as many people made $100 grand.

And the Tucson Human Resources Manager Cindy Bezaury sees a reason, "We have far more employees working overtime and earning premiums than we had in the last five years."

The top city earner last year was the former City Manager, who earned $244,000 of your tax dollars even though he was fired in April. The new city manager was second at just under $206,000, followed by the Assistant City Manager, Police Chief and Fire Chief.

The majority of workers on the top 200 list are within the Tucson Police Department. And that's where the overtime and extra pay comes into effect.

"These guys are working a lot of hours because of the assignment they're in; because we have a big drug problem in Tucson," says Police Union President Larry Lopez.

To be fair, some of the extra pay for officers comes from private companies that hire them for security work on their off days.

And the amount of police overtime coming out of the general fund has come in under the City Council's budget allotment the last two years In part because a large amount comes from state and federal grants for deployments such as DUI checkpoints. Still, that money is taxpayer money too.

And it's enough to add another 50% to many officers' salaries bumping their total pay well above the $100,000 range.

But Lopez thinks salary reduction is not an option, "If you start cutting salaries and taking benefits away from us, when we pull out of this recession, we are not going to be attractive to the best and the brightest."

Cashing in unused sick leave is another benefit many in the police department utilized last year. Among the police employees who meet the qualifications, in the top 200 list, 89 did that.

"These are some incentives that we use for retention purposes in our police department specifically to keep them here. Also, when we have quality people here we don't want to lose them.''

Union president Larry Lopez is tired of defending the salaries, "You choose the profession that you choose. And because I chose this profession, to do the job I do, why do I have to make less money than you?"

Former State Senator John Koromiko, the president of the Pima Association of Taxpayers would like to see pay cuts for all the highest paid city employees, "It would solve the whole thing. If they went 2% for every $10,000 of pay, it would balance it. "

"It's not as simple as taking $100,000 salaries and cutting them by 10% because it's a civil service question," says City Council Member Steve Kozachik. Human resources confirms to us the only way the city can cut salaries, is if it does it across the board, without targeting the highest paid.

In fact, they tried it.

The city attorney and human resources in January recommended a 3% across the board cut.

But the city council decided not to do that.

"I think it's perhaps a misnomer to look at someone's salary and make a conclusion that ipso facto they're overpaid just because they make a certain amount of money. There are a lot of factors that go into it," says council member Kozachik.

But Kromko isn't satisfied, "Something needs to be done about it. I just don't' have much confidence this city council has the guts to do it."

It's a tough question and one that the city is not asking itself right now.