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Small cities pay big money to some employees

Dani Simmonds

Several hundred residents of Bell, Calif. gathered at a local middle school last night to listen to state auditors explain how their city leaders had managed to bilk them out of millions of dollars.

The scandal has roiled the city of 39,000, with eight current and former Bell officials pleading not guilty to corruption charges that include overcharging taxpayers to enrich themselves with lavish salaries and taxpayer-funded perks. City officials in Vernon, population 95, are under scrutiny for similar wrongdoing.

In the wake of the scandals, the state controller has required all municipalities to report 2009 salary data. The data, which lists salaries by position but not by name, shows that sometimes little towns pay their officials big money.

Down south, in Bradbury, a small affluent suburb consisting largely of gated communities, the city manager made $105,998 to oversee the city of 953. (Note: All salaries are based on wages subject to Medicare and could include wages, overtime, cash payments for vacation and sick leave, and bonus payments.)

And in Colma, just south of San Francisco, officials reported that the 10 police officers patrolling the 1,623-resident city all made more than $115,000 – higher than many of their counterparts in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The pay rate in tiny Sand City in affluent Monterey County, population 312, isn't too shabby either. The city administrator made $204,495 in 2009. 

Predictably, lower-income cities of comparable size paid considerably less.

Take Point Arena in Mendocino County, population 492. The highest paid official there in 2009 was the city administrator at $57,366.

In Tehama, population 425, the city administrator – also the highest paid in town – earned less than half that at $27,615 (including $600 for also acting as city clerk and $1,800 for filling in as water operator). More than 13 percent of Tehama residents live below the poverty line, U.S. Census data shows.

A two-hour drive up I-5 in Etna, a city with a slightly larger population of 752 and a similar poverty rate, the city clerk took home $36,907.

As of Monday evening, more than two dozen cities had failed to report salary data. To give a little more perspective, here are the top salaries from a few large cities:

Los Angeles


San Diego


San Jose

San Francisco



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