Cities give employees millions in 'specialty pay'

Taxpayers association: "Pensions may be affected"

SAN DIEGO - A study by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association found 16 cities paid more than $90 million in specialty pay to their employees.

The study found specialty pay includes bonuses for being bilingual, fixing sprinklers, working in confined spaces, education reimbursement, holiday pay and more.

The study looked at twelve years of data from 2000 to 2012.

Team 10's analysis of the study found city workers in Escondido who cared for the city's trees received bonuses called a "tree crew premium."  Escondido also offers specialty pay for working in a confined space like a sewer.

In Coronado, groundskeepers received bonus pay for repairing sprinkler heads.

Of the 16 cities analyzed in the taxpayers association study, one city spent the most on specialty pay, averaging $1.7 million a year.

The cities included in the study are, Chula Vista, Oceanside, Escondido, Carlsbad, National City, Poway, Vista, Encinitas, San Marcos, El Cajon, La Mesa, Coronado, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Imperial Beach, and Santee.  The purpose of the study was to analyze the affect of specialty pays on city pensions.  The study only included cities which are part of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CALPERS), which is why the city of San Diego was omitted.

Chula Vista spends the most on specialty pay, according to the study. The amount totaled $1.7 million over the years analyzed. The mayor said the pay bumps keep Chula Vista competitive. 

"If you want to get the top employees you have to recognize what other cities are offering," said Mayor Cheryl Cox.

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association President said the study exposed why specialty pays are a problem for taxpayers.  Chris Cate said specialty pay isn't emblematic of abuse but directly affects city worker's pensions.

"Employees are spiking their pensions," Cate said. "It could have the effect of increasing their pension by tens of thousands of dollars."

Specialty pay is added onto salary in the cities in the study, according to the taxpayers association.  Since CALPERS pension system uses total salary to calculate an employee's pension, specialty pay adds to the overall cost.

Specialty pay is often a negotiation point between city managers and employee's unions.

Click here to see the taxpayer’s study. (Mobile users: http://bit.ly/13CbxtY)

Click here to see the taxpayers summary report. (Mobile users: http://bit.ly/11UrzKQ)

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