If there was such a thing as a $100,000 Club for employees, nearly 250 would hold membership cards based on their six-figure city incomes.
That adds up to more than 25 percent of the 952 people who were on the city payroll last year in a part- or full-time capacity, a review of the 2011 Annual Treasurer’s Report shows. The report is part of the agenda for today’s Joliet City Council meeting.
The tallied the highest number: 124 of 212 employees earned between $100,475 and $159,265 last year. Five made more than Fire Chief Joseph Formhals, who took home $149,417 in 2011.
The numbers were nearly as high in the Public Utilities Department, where about 39 percent of the staff – 40 of 91 employees – earned $100,000 or more.
Two of them – equipment operator Samuel Nunez, who earned $171,717, and maintenance foreman Stephen Stovall, $166,059 – made substantially more than their boss, department director James Eggen, who collected $142, 356. They also out-earned , $143,535; City Attorney Jeff Plyman, $154,322; Community and Economic Development Director James Haller, $146,002; Management and Budget Director Ken Mihelich, $144,843; and Public Works Director James Trizna, $146,002.
Only City Manager Tom Thanas, at $203,820, earned more in 2011.
Thanas said there are many factors at play when it comes to high cost of hourly pay and salaries, including generous pay raises awarded in the years before 2008, when the economy crashed; union-negotiated contracts that mandate and lock in pay raises for years at a time; an administrative pay freeze that’s been in effect for five years; and the unavoidable need to pay overtime for public utilities, public work, fire and police staff.
“When the city had a very robust economy (in the early- to mid-2000s), the city council felt it was in a position to extend good benefits and pay increases to our employees,” Thanas said. “No one really saw the 2008 recession hitting us as hard as it did.”
When the economy went sour – having a huge impact on the number of houses built and the amount of income from the city’s two casinos – the city was forced to trim staff (160 positions since 2008) and to slash health care costs by $4 million, in part by having employees pay health insurance premiums for the first time in the city’s history, he said.
The situation’s also one of the reasons the city has settled contracts with three employee unions that call for no pay raises in 2013 and 2014, he said. It’s expected the remaining unions will strike similar deals.
Even though the contract tradeoff is health insurance premiums being locked in at their current rate through 2021, Thanas said, “We’ll benefit in that it will make the budget predictable for the next two years.”
The largest portion of any government budget is always personnel, and that’s true in Joliet, where 75 percent to 80 percent of the budget goes to payroll and benefits.
That said, Thanas does acknowledge the high salaries are problematic, especially given that most would be far lower were it not for overtime. However, overtime is still less expensive than hiring new employees, he said.
Estimates show that while overtime is a one-time flat expense, the cost of hiring a new employee – with pay, benefits and retirement expenses – is estimated to be about $3.2 million for an average employee’s total tenure, he said.
Thanas also acknowledged that the administrative pay freeze “does cause morale problems.”
“You are going to have problems when supervisors make less than the people they supervise,” he said.
Asked whether previous administrations are to blame for being too generous in good times, Thanas said his job is not to look back and assess fault.
“My perspective is look toward the future,” he said.