The most recent figures available as part of a statewide database on city compensation levels shows that during the 2011 calendar year, 161 of Tracy’s 539 employees earned more than $100,000, including regular pay, overtime and benefits.
The city ranked 36th out of the 474 cities in the state in average overall compensation, spending $69,860 per employee.
That puts it ahead of San Joaquin County neighbors Stockton (65th, $64,539), Manteca (156th, $52,414) and Lodi (276th, $40,261).
Tracy’s average compensation was also slightly greater than that of such cities as San Francisco ($68,561) and San Jose ($68,339), but less than Livermore ($73,309).
The highest-paying municipality, Indian Wells in Riverside County, pays its 39 employees an average of $107,343 a year.
City Manager Leon Churchill said that simply comparing averages doesn’t give an “apple-to-apple” picture.
Churchill — who topped Tracy’s compensation list at $212,957, according to the database — said employee compensation is higher than that of other San Joaquin County cities because Tracy is a “full-service city” in relatively good financial health.
“(Tracy) provides most services associated with local government services, ranging from police and fire to recreation to utilities, and even an airport,” Churchill said. “This is by necessity due to Tracy’s relative geographic isolation. Cities in a metropolitan area have a logistically easier time to merge services.”
Such mergers can reduce a city’s standing on the statewide list, Churchill said.
He added that Tracy compares favorably with a list of 10 Northern California burgs the city uses to judge compensation. While overall average pay is higher than in many cities, comparing similar positions shows Tracy is not profligate with employees, Churchill said.
“City employees are low-paid compared to the East Bay and highly paid when compared to the Central Valley, and that is how it should be,” he said.
The city manager also said Tracy’s average is skewed because all members of South County Fire Authority — which includes Tracy Fire Department and Tracy Rural Fire Protection District — fall under the city’s employment umbrella.
Among the 161 city employees who earned six-figure compensation in 2011, 118 were members of the fire and police departments.
Ryan Gall, vice president of the Tracy Firefighters Association, said the numbers reported by the state do not tell the whole story.
The cost of compensation listed in the database isn’t all borne by city taxpayers, Gall said, especially when it comes to the fire department.
When the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection calls firefighters to help battle wildfires, for instance, the state reimburses Tracy for the time local crew members work with Cal Fire.
Gall also said overtime can add to a city employee’s compensation — and thus boost Tracy’s average on the state list — while saving the city money by avoiding the need to hire another employee with full-time salary and benefits.
“Paying overtime is cheaper than paying for a salaried position (with lower base salary),” Gall said.
He also said firefighters put in significant hours even without extra pay. A typical Tracy firefighter works the equivalent of 364 eight-hour days in a year in rotating shifts of 48 hours on the clock and 72 hours off.
During those 48 hours on duty, Gall said, firefighters are always on call.
“They’re not just handing this out,” Gall said.
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.