Firefighter pay is on fire, tax dollars up in smoke

Posted by on May 27th, 2010 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry from your site

(Geoffrey Lawrence/Nevada Policy Research Institute) – At a time when local governments across Nevada are reducing service levels and laying off employees, salaries for unionized firefighters throughout the Las Vegas Valley are continuing to sizzle.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute annually receives public employee payroll records from local governments across the state in response to public-records requests. The data NPRI has received for 2009 — which will soon be available for viewing online at TransparentNevada.com — reveals that an alarming trend continues. Firefighter pay in the Las Vegas Valley is exorbitant and far out of line with any reasonable benchmarking metric.

The Clark County Fire Department employed 739 full-time firefighters in 2009. Of that number, 565 (76.5 percent) received total wages in excess of $100,000. While the $63,433 in base pay that the average firefighter received might be reasonable, the average firefighter was able to more than double that amount on the final paycheck — receiving pay for longevity, paramedic training and other allowances, as well as $25,688 in call back and overtime — to collect $129,476 in total pay. Including the $43,422 in benefits, the average firefighter received a total compensation package of $172,898.

Some firefighters took home amounts far greater than the average. Two firefighters took home wages in excess of $400,000. Several firefighters approached $100,000 in call back and overtime alone. Two firefighters received more than $90,000 in benefits alone — each had more than $80,000 deposited by the county into his retirement account.

The situation is similar at the other fire departments within the Las Vegas Valley. The City of Las Vegas employed 553 full-time firefighters in 2009, of whom 420 (75.9 percent) received wages in excess of $100,000. The average Las Vegas firefighter earned $123,427 in total wages, including $82,592 in base pay and $26,057 in overtime. Combined with $50,834 in benefits, the total compensation package was $174,261.

Of the 227 firefighters in Henderson, 156 (68.7 percent) were paid more than $100,000. The average Henderson firefighter received $115,963 in total wages, including $79,863 in base pay and $21,112 in call back and overtime.

Yet, the average firefighter in the Reno Fire Department received only $93,780 in total pay, including $72,525 in base pay and $6,482 in overtime and call back. The average firefighter in Carson City earned only $79,472 in 2009 and $46,395 in benefits. In Boulder City — only 20 miles from Las Vegas — the average firefighter received $74,142 in total pay and $34,616 in benefits.

The $50,000 difference in average pay between Clark County or Las Vegas firefighters and Boulder City firefighters has little to do with a difference in conditions or the cost of living. It is likely more reflective of the political leverage that the county’s firefighter union has exerted over the years, as well as the willingness of county commissioners and Las Vegas city council members to accede to union demands.

Now that local tax revenues in Southern Nevada have plummeted with economic recession, county commissioners and city council members are finding themselves caught with their fiscal pants down. Had they exercised greater restraint with the unions during the boom years, they would not find themselves in the uncomfortable position of asking for salary reductions today. Indeed, as County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly recently said, “We’re paying for a lot of what’s been done in the past.”

Yet, while county commissioners have offset a $138.5 million budget “shortfall” primarily through a series of accounting gimmicks, such as raiding the capital improvements fund and reserve funds, achieving long-term stability will require standing up to union bosses. If the recent claim by Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani that the commission has been “very prudent” is any indication, the commission still has a long way to go before developing the backbone required to deal with narcissistic unions.

Union boss Ryan Beaman insists that “firefighters are about solutions.” Yet, he has adamantly refused to offer any meaningful salary concessions while negotiating with the county for the union’s next collective bargaining contract — even though current firefighter pay is demonstrably excessive. Apparently, his solution is simply for taxpayers to fork over more money for his bank account.

Wake up, county commission, and take a hard line. Boulder City’s making you look bad.

(Geoffrey Lawrence is a fiscal policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org)

6 Responses for “Firefighter pay is on fire, tax dollars up in smoke”

  1. Gerald Sills says:

    Not sure how a person would rate firefight pay. If you have a dangerous fire, then they are worth a lot, much as a situation where the lives of police officers are on the line. If I do a comparison between firefighters, police, and Federal Offices, one has to see a dramatic difference. The first two groups are protecting us, and the third group, politicians, are endangering our lives, and stealing our livelihoods. Politicians should also suffer drastic reductions in pay, or better yet, imprisoned where they belong. Let’s start at the top, and then work our way down to the people. Public employees, for the most part, should not be the “whipping boys” for the faults of mismanagement by politicians.

  2. Leave the teachers alone. Take a day – spend a day with a teacher….and 5 nights AND the weekend grading papers….and preparing lessons. Then do your college classwork. If you are lucky, you could even spend a few minutes with your own kids. And never make a mistake.

  3. Chuck Muth says:

    Waaaahhhh!!!!!!

  4. Charles Varrick says:

    Still nothing has changed. Thank Reid, Guiglianci and the others who have not served their constitutents interests.

  5. Bob says:

    Here’s a thought….look at base salaries for those firefighters, they’re all pretty similar. The differences come from their OVERTIME and CALLBACK pay. Those of you who have never worked in emergency services don’t understand that when you’re a firefighter, you’re on call, 24/7/365. If there’s a bad fire, and the potential for bad fires in Vegas is HIGH, you get called in to work, and work HARD. It’s a known fact that larger cities have higher compensation for their employees, and rightly so, those men and women work harder, making more calls per shift and working bigger fires, it’s a fact of life, you have bigger buildings and more people, the fire department is going to be busier and have to work harder, they should get paid more, as a base, but these guys don’t make a LOT more than those in smaller cities. If you want to reduce expenditures, hire a few extra firemen so you’re not paying so much overtime. Fire departments can’t opperate below minimum staffing levels, if they don’t have enough firefighters on the truck for the day, that truck becomes useless and must be shut down. Federal law dictates that there must be, at a minimum, two personnel outside, geared up, ready to fight fire, waiting at the entrance to a fire building before anyone can enter the building. Those two firefighters cannot leave that post until all personnel are out of the building. It’s a safety requirement, those two firefighters are a rescue team, prepared to go in and rescue any downed crews, God forbid they are ever needed. If you don’t have the neccessary personnel on scene, the building burns out of control, lives and property are lost, and the fire department gets blamed. To combat this, they hire overtime to meet minimum staffing levels. If you had enough employees to begin with, you wouldn’t have to hire so much overtime, salaries would be more in line with neighboring cities and nobody would be complaining. The author is right, this is mismanagement on the part of the cities in question, but it has nothing to do with how firefigthers are compensated, it has everything to do with how cities determine how many employees they will have on staff. Unions have caused a great deal of heartache in this country, to be sure, but firefighter unions are more concerned with safety than with compensation. In many, if not most cases, firefighter unions use compensation as a bargaining tool, hoping the city will opt to hire more firefighters and purchase better safety equipment rather than pay the guys they have more. Unfortunately, this idea seems to be lost on many cities.

  6. RANII says:

    We have lost control of fire services. Citizens must control government. Get busy mayors and voters.

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