WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa raises top pay for police, fire chiefs

Tom Schwedhelm


The top of the salary ranges for Santa Rosa’s police and fire chiefs were increased 6 and 10 percent respectively by the City Council on Tuesday to ensure they are paid more than their subordinates.

The move doesn’t trigger raises for Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm or interim Fire Chief Mark McCormick, but it does allow raises to be granted at the discretion of the city manager.

“It’s an issue I’ll have to weigh at the time of the annual reviews,” said City Manager Kathy Millison.

Mark McCormick

The city’s top brass gave up the 8 percent raises granted by the council in 2008 after it became clear the city’s finances were faltering, said Human Resources Director Fran Elm.

That helped create “compaction” between salaries of department heads and those of their top deputies.

“Their subordinate managers are increasing above the levels of the chiefs and that’s not an appropriate situation for the responsibility and authority delegated to those positions,” Millison said.

Schwedhelm, who has been with the department for 27 years, makes the top of the chief’s salary range, $181,620. The new salary range tops out at $192,408, an increase of $10,788 or 6 percent.

McCormick is the deputy fire chief who has been acting fire chief since Bruce Varner’s departure. He makes $179,780 a year, the top of the salary range for his position, Elm said.

Under the new salary plan, the next chief could be paid as much as $191,076, a $11,296 increase over current levels, or 6.3 percent.

Millison stressed that there is no guarantee an existing or future chief would be granted top pay. She has hired new administrators below the top salary ranges for their positions and reclassified some jobs to create lower salaries.

She also noted that both chiefs will take part in efforts to control the salary and benefit costs of workers unrepresented by unions. This will include contributions of 2 percent of salary toward the city’s retirement costs, and a 3.3-percent reduction in pay through furloughs.

Those changes are expected to save $181,000 this year.

Editor’s Note: Due to an error on the city of Santa Rosa’s website, an earlier version of this story contained inaccurate salary information for Deputy Fire Chief Mark McCormick.

24 Responses to “Santa Rosa raises top pay for police, fire chiefs”

  1. John says:

    @ GAJ – This discussion is way off topic from the article however…

    My issue with you is you preach cutting salaries of public safety based upon the reported wages of people who choose to work as much overtime as is available. There is a good portion of people who choose not to work any overtime so their wages are not reported in the news because they are not ‘Sensational’. Yet you want to use one number (overtime wages) to justify your desire to cut ALL salaries. You don’t look at the entire picture when you pick and choose your quotes and links to inflame readers into agreeing with you. It’s always an incomplete one sided arguement in your posts.

    So my question is really this… what would you expect the average working class employee to earn per year (working a 40 hour week)? Then add 16 hours of overtime per week. What does your total add up to?

    Using the bottom of average middle class wages of $40k/year and using the above question/calculation method I get $64k/year. That sounds an awful lot like the base firefighter wage. Is that so unreasonable?

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  2. Retired cop says:

    Overtime in Police and Fire are next to impossible to control. Near the end of their shift, fire responds to a call that will take 6 hours to contain, you pay. Police arrest someone just before they get off duty, they have to book them and finish the report before they go home because that person will be in front of a judge the next day, or at a bail hearing. Someone calls in sick, you fill it by holding people over. There isn’t much choice in the matter. Ever major felony or homicide cost tens of thousands in overtime because you dont stop until the trail is cold or you catch them. To do otherwise is negligent to due diligence…

    Police and Fire will always be the largest part of any budget. That if just a fact and a cost doing business.

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  3. River Rat says:


    You just voted them INTO office. Remember? We now have a pro-biz majority. Remember? The ones who know what’s best for SR. Plus a retired cop as mayor.

    How many of you voted for them?

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  4. GAJ says:

    Overtime has always been a huge concern when articles are printed about ballooning total pay for Public Safety which is taking ever larger percentages of City budgets.

    It would be nice to know exactly what the rules are is all.

    As “Lets Be Reasonable” stated it would be nice to get some clarity for cities within the County as well as the County itself.

    The PD should do a story on the issue of overtime as I’ve been under the impression it was a growing part of the budget and a driver of six figure total pay for Firefighters and beat cops.

    When I ran my company with hundreds of employees here in Sonoma County controlling overtime was key to keeping costs under control. The more overtime the less feet you could have on the floor to the detriment of customer service and eventually the enterprise itself.

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  5. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @John – you might want to describe how Fire shifts work. I’m not sure I remember – is it 3 24-hour shifts one week and then 2 the next? Do you have any off weeks? Your shifts do include sleep time, though of course you can be sent out on a call at any time. And how does FLSA play into this? I know your overtime rules are different than normal shift employees, but I don’t know the details.

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  6. John says:

    @ GAJ – I didn’t know you were talking about cops. Although I don’t know any cops that work less than 8 hours per shift or less than 40 per week so I’m not sure what your point is.

    This article talks about management SALARIES. No mention of overtime anywhere in it!


    Managers don’t get overtime as far as I know. I don’t follow your claim of abuse. Where is it?

    Being a firefighter I am expected to work an average of 56 hours per week. Of that none of it is paid as overtime. I just want to know what you think of that? You’ve voiced concern about our yearly earnings before but Never been willing to consider overtime. Now it appears it is your new battle cry. So I would like to talk about it seeing as YOU brought it up. Your thoughts please.

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  7. GAJ says:


    Source please?

    If cops are ineligible for overtime pay until they reach 56 hours in a week that’s certainly news to me.

    How about daily overtime?

    Looking forward to the sources and details.

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  8. bill says:

    Using convoluted formulas to give cops more money flies in the face of fiscal reality.

    Once again our elected officials cave to public safety at our expense. This fiscal climate is NOT conducive to any pay raises and more layoffs for public safety should be where budget balance occurs.

    Time to recall these officials who have lost the public trust.

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  9. John says:

    @ GAJ – How does your latest battle cry apply to a 56 hour work week? That’s 56 hours straight pay. Not 40 hours straight and 16 overtime but 56 straight.

    Are you suggesting that 832 regular time hours per year should be overtime?

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  10. Observer says:

    To the downfall of California, the Sheople can’t even grow a spine. They couldn’t elect a person who could solve a financial problem if their budget depended on it. You may have grown more frustrated, but the Sheople are as dumb as they were last year. They don’t even want to get a clue about it.

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  11. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Keep beating that hornets nest!
    The sheeple are growing fangs.

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  12. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @Bear – Overtime is not considered when looking at “compaction.”

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  13. STEVE HUMPHREY says:

    You have to love the logic in this. We are raising the Chiefs pay in order to seperate their compensation from the subordinates that they manage. Shouldn’t that logic be reversed? Shouldn’t subordinate pay wages NOT be increased to a level so close to their superiors?
    I believe those that negotiate with the unions…unions that have raised the wage level to this extreme, should bring this up at their next pow wow.
    The unsustainability of this path is so evident.

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  14. DanFox says:

    @Skeptical, @Bill me – you’ve both missed the boat here. The chiefs’ salaries haven’t been increased and the City Council’s act does not affect their pensions.

    Perhaps you’re not familiar with what a salary range is. It will state (for example) that the range for a particular employee is $70K – $90K/year. The employee may in fact be making $80K/year. What the City Council did in effect was to increase the top of the range to $100K/year.

    This does not increase the actual salary, which in my example stays at $80K/yr.

    What it does, however, is to create the danger that the City Manager may increase it without attention from the public later – and THAT would be a shame. I do hope someone will keep an eye on the flow of information out of SR City Hall so that there is an opportunity for public outcry if that happens.

    I do agree that it was incredibly, INCREDIBLY stupid for the SR City Council to take that particular action at this time. Just what were they THINKING?!

    And @Jason M – I think that your whining about “overpaid, greedy, selfish public safety employees” is ill-considered. It appears from the article that the City Manager and City Human Resources Director were the instigators behind this (IMHO stupid) move. Rather than condemning the chiefs, they should be lauded for turning down the 8% raises they were granted in 2008 in order to help balance the city’s budget – now just how “greedy and selfish” was that?

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  15. Skeptical says:

    This is also an irresponsible gift of pension funds . . . maybe a followup story on that would be helpful. These guys are both ready to retire at 90% (or more) of their salary. So while their salaries have been increased for the next few years of their employment, they will be reaping a windfall in their pension for decades to come. This whole thing is really disappointing at so many levels.

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  16. Bill me says:

    If there was any credibility left in our Council and Manager, regarding budgets/cuts/and fees, this latest deal confirms it is misguided. I don’t know about the rest of you, but any, repeat ANY public employee receiving a raise when the economy is in the dumpster, should be the subject of a “Bell” type investigation. Outright theft and rape of public employees and taxpayers. Shame on our City.

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  17. Jason M. says:

    Disgusting bureaucracy.

    Overpaid, greedy, selfish public safety employees.

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  18. FurloughedWorker says:

    A slap in the face to the hundreds of City workers (not police and fire) who are in their second year of doing unpaid furlough days.

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  19. Fiscal Conservative says:

    What a bass akwards move this is.

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  20. bear says:

    I think everyone should get overtime for more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. Otherwise employees health and safety are at the mercy of management.

    But overtime should NOT be counted as base pay, and if highly paid managers are not eligible for it, then that’s too bad. “Compression” should be measured by base pay. Who actually does the work, after all?

    Haven’t you noticed that management always wins? Please try to make a distinction between management and people who do the actual work.

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  21. Brad Atkins says:

    Well the deal that Bartley and Ours made to get themselves elected by promising the police officers whatever they wanted seems to have worked out well for all concerned. The “business” slate got elected and gave big fat raises and cushy pensions to the cops! Well their campaign signs did say “Got Jobs”? I guess they were talking about police jobs not jobs for the rest of us!

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  22. Dave Madigan says:

    I am sure that the Police Chief and the Fire Chief are worth every penny they make…and then some!

    My problem is with the City Council and City Manager. They tell the City employees that they have to make pay cuts and then the Council asks for more and more taxes.

    Oh by the way, they are sitting on $40 Million dollars in the Redevelopment Agency.

    We do need to cut City pay rates and benefits. Let’s start with the City Manager!

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  23. Kirstin says:

    The city council and city manager continue to live in their own little bubble of fiscal unreality. GAJ is quite right: we should be cutting pay scales at all levels in government, not raising any.

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  24. GAJ says:

    Shouldn’t we be cutting pay scales at all levels not raising them??

    Compression is due to the overly generous overtime rules in California compared to Federal Law.

    Most States overtime = more than 40 hours per week.

    In California you can work less than 40 hours and still get overtime pay for the days you work over 8 hours.

    We can’t afford such luxuries vis a vis the national norms any longer.

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