City Hall

Are City Workers Overpaid? Report Says No, Though Police and Firefighters Have Cushy Pensions

It didn't make the marquee for tomorrow's "Thrilla on Marilla," but there are a couple of other things the City Council will be briefed on, same day, same place.

One of those is a rather dry study, the first since 2006, comparing the pay and benefits of city of Dallas workers with those in a couple of dozen comparable municipalities and the private sector. And while it's always entertaining to grouse about pay rates for some public officials, the city's pay rates are rather low. The average garbage man or cubicle drone at City Hall would make considerably more on average if he or she worked for another city or for a private business.

Base salary for civilian employees isn't far off the average, down just about 7 percent, but when you throw in bonuses, medical and dental benefits, and other factors, that gap doubles. Police and firefighters are a different story. Total compensation there is 11 percent above average, with retirement benefits way at the tippy top.

The disparity isn't surprising. Police and firefighters are always the last to see cuts in lean economic times and the first to benefit from a rebound. Similarly, it's a lot more palatable (if equally shortsighted financially) to give generous pension benefits to people who have put their lives at risk for a couple of decades than those who have pushed paper City Hall.

That's all politics, and maybe it makes sense, but there's a breaking point when the pay and benefits become so low that competent and dedicated workers who have until that point stuck it out because they enjoy public service -- there are more of them than you think -- will seek greener pastures elsewhere.

The report doesn't say outright that Dallas is at this point, but it strongly suggests that it's getting there. It recommends a three-year plan to address compensation in specific jobs that are difficult to fill and the reinstatement of merit awards, which have been halted because of the economy. And, the city needs to kick in more toward employees' health plans, which, the report notes, are terrible.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson