The Public Eye

Sheriff’s departments have highest-paid local government workers in Sacramento region


David Keyes didn’t wear a suit or work in an executive office, but he was the capital region’s highest-paid local government employee in 2013.

As a captain in the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Keyes received a base salary of $122,000, according to recently released data from the State Controller’s Office. When he retired in November 2013, Keyes also received $150,000 for unused sick time, $19,000 for unused vacation and $64,000 for other incentives, boosting his final-year pay to $355,000.

Keyes, 53, did not return messages from The Sacramento Bee. Since retiring, he has been able to enjoy his longtime hobby of photography, according to a website showcasing his work.

Keyes’ law enforcement sector has more people than any other category on the region’s list of 1,000 highest-paid local government employees, The Bee found in an analysis of the State Controller’s Office 2013 data. In Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties, 237 sworn employees from sheriff’s departments and 57 sworn officers from police departments were on the list.

The database does not include figures from special districts, including the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District. Historically, Metro Fire employees have been among the highest-paid in the state. The Controller’s Office has yet to release special district information for 2013.

Sworn personnel from sheriff’s departments received an average of $106,000, compared to $73,000 for all local government employees in the region, the analysis found.

The difference in pay is partially explained by the value and danger of the work performed by sheriff’s deputies, said Robert Bonner, Sacramento County’s labor negotiator.

“The public values public safety, and so we often give them more generous salaries,” he said.

Bonner said the risky nature of the work was shown most recently by the October killing of Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Davis Jr. Authorities say 34-year-old Luis Enriquez Monroy Bracamontes killed the deputies in a crime spree stretching from Sacramento to Auburn.

Kevin Mickelson, president of the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, said keeping pay competitive is essential to attracting qualified employees. Sacramento County uses salary surveys of other local departments to make sure pay doesn’t significantly lag, Mickelson and Bonner said.

Placer County also uses salary surveys to gauge pay, said department spokeswoman Dena Irwin. The standards for setting pay were established in a 1977 voter-approved measure sponsored by the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.

But in using such standards, local governments are ignoring the long-term costs of paying deputies high salaries, said Craig Powell of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association. Those salaries are a big reason local governments have “gargantuan” unfunded liabilities in their pension funds, he said.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s Pension Reform Act of 2013 intended to curb pension costs by eliminating some pay categories that can count toward retirement calculations. But the board at CalPERS, which administers most local government retirement plans, last year voted to keep many of the categories, such as ongoing bonuses for certifications, meeting physical fitness standards and working as a crime scene investigator.

Payments for unused sick time and vacation do not count toward retirement benefits, according to a state law cited by CalPERS spokeswoman Rosanna Westmoreland. Nevertheless, Powell calls such payments problematic.

“I think it’s abusive,” he said. “It’s not what sick time was intended to do.”

Counties in the region have different policies on collecting pay for accrued sick time and generally restrict how many hours can be counted, how much can be paid, or both.

Placer County allows deputies to collect 50 percent of the cash value of accumulated sick time after 10 years of employment, and another 5 percent for each successive year of service. Sacramento County doesn’t allow employees in the deputies’ union to cash out sick time, while managers in the Sheriff’s Department can receive half of the cash value and the other half of the value applied as service credit toward retirement calculations.

The Controller’s Office tracks vacation and sick time cash-outs as lump-sum payments. In 2013, 32 sworn employees of sheriff’s departments in the region received lump-sum payments of $20,000 or more, with 22 from Placer County and 10 from Sacramento County.

That includes former Sacramento County Undersheriff Richard Book, who retired in July 2013 and received $100,000 for accrued sick time and $34,000 for unused vacation, county records show.

Sworn employees from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, the highest paid in the region, benefit from other incentives. The county pays them extra to receive additional certifications beyond the basic requirement from the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, and more for post-high-school education.

Sacramento County sworn personnel made an average of $25,000 in the category used to track such pay, according to the controller’s 2013 data. The figures include the allowance of about $1,000 that officers receive each year to clean and replace uniforms.

Bonner and Mickelson said such incentives help to attract well-qualified law-enforcement officers and improve their skills when they join. Across the region, the incentives provided a big boost in their paychecks: Sworn sheriff’s personnel made an additional 27 percent above their regular pay in 2013, more than twice the average for all local government employees.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.