SLO fire chief to get pay raise of more than $20k

July 3, 2015

SLO_City_Emblem_fullcolor_neutralbkgBy JOSH FRIEDMAN

About 28 employees of the city of San Luis Obisop are slated to receive pay raises of at least 10 percent over the next six months, and at least one staffer’s salary could jump by more than $20,000.

On Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo City Council will consider approving new salary and benefit agreements that will increase the pay of more than 200 city employees. The proposed labor agreements are between the city and members of the its largest employee union, San Luis Obispo City Employees Association (SLOCEA), as well as with non-union staffers, most of whom are in management positions.

Fire Chief Garret Olson is in line for a base salary increase of about $22,000 over the next six months. Olson will receive a 14 percent bump in pay, with 12 percent taking effect immediately, if the council approves the agreements.

Olson’s base pay, as of last month, was $154,544. With the raise, his salary would jump to more than $176,000.

Transportation Operations Manager Jake Hudson stands to receive a 17.7 percent increase in his base salary. Hudson currently receives a salary of $93,288. With the increase, his base pay will rise to about $110,000.

The currently vacant police chief position is due for a 17 percent pay raise. Former chief Steve Gesell, who left the city last month, received a base salary of $160,394 at the time of his departure. At Gesell’s pay rate, the police chief would earn an annual salary of approximately $188,000.

Human Resources Director Monica Irons said in an email to CalCoastNews that the recommended pay raises are are based on position classifications, not individuals.

The labor agreements call for SLOCEA members and the non-union employees to receive a pair of 2 percent cost of living adjustments to their salaries. The first 2 percent salary hike is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2015, and the second 2 percent increase takes effect Jan. 1, 2016.

On top of the cost of living adjustments, 80 of 151 SLOCEA members, and 36 of 82 unrepresented employees are slated to receive additional increases, according to a report prepared by Human Resources Manager Greg Zocher.

Those pay increases range in size from 2.6 percent to 15.7 percent. The staff report refers to them as “equity adjustments.”

Last year, the city council approved a study comparing San Luis Obispo worker pay to staff compensation in other California cities. The study concluded that 50 percent of SLO employees receive pay well below industry standard.

Both council members and staff say it is necessary to provide competitive compensation in order to attract and retain well qualified employees. Zocher’s report also notes city employees accepted pay cuts during the recent economic downturn.

Critics of the city say employee salaries and benefits are too high, and they place a burden on tax and rate payers.

In 2000, general fund staffing costs totalled about $21 million. In the fiscal year that began Wednesday, staffing costs are expected to exceed $46 million, and the city projects they will surpass $48 million in 2016-2017.

Last year, city voters renewed a half cent sales tax. While city management says the tax revenue is used for city services, the money goes to the general fund, and it can be used to backfill salary and pension costs.

All department heads, with the exception of the police and fire chiefs, are currently slated to receive 5 percent “equity” increases. Including the cost of living adjustments, department heads will receive 9 percent raises.

Last month, the council also approved a raise for City Attorney Christine Dietrick and a cash and car bonus for City Manager Katie Lichtig.

Dietrick received a raise of more than $12,000, increasing her salary to $187,252. It was her fourth raise in the last four years.

The council granted Lichtig a one-time $7,600 cash bonus. The car bonus she now receives is an annual allotment of $5,400.

Some critics likewise point to high staffing costs as reason for yearly water and sewer rate hikes. Last month, the council voted to raise both rates.

The new rates take effect this month, and the average residential water bill will increase by 17.8 percent, or about $10 a month.

The city’s water and sewer enterprises are separate from the general fund, and they must cover the cost of staffing utility workers. Last year, the 61 full time employees in the utilities department were making an average base salary of $73,000.

Several utilities managers and supervisors are currently in line for 5 percent “equity” increases. Also, about 10 utilities employees are slated to receive 12 percent “equity” increases that will take effect over the next six months.

The council will meet the evening of July 7 to vote on the proposed pay raises. The council is still awaiting new labor agreements with the city’s police and firefighter unions.


People that tout the life style of the Central Coast as a reason to pay lower wages don’t understand the market place. Yes, this is a desirable place to live, but, may professionals from outside the area will not accept employment here as it is often difficult for there spouse to find suitable employment due to the lack of business. Having said that, if you work here and believe that you are underpaid, you have choices which include moving to an employer out of the area that will pay you what you think you are worth. In the big picture, I see professionals being paid on par here vs the rest of the state/country. The challenge is, due to being more rural in nature, it can take longer to find acceptable employment. With the need to work, people often take jobs for which they are overqualified. People also become complacent and quit looking for more suitable employment, even if they are overqualified for the position that they accept. They do have choices to continue to look, move elsewhere or insure that they shine in their position to gain recognition within their organization or by their competitors who may more highly value them. Let’s give up the victim mentality and become responsible for our own success rather than blaming others.


There is a very distinct difference between being an observant person and being a victim. With the average home on the Central coast costing about half a million dollars, there are not a lot of employers that pay salaries to support that kind of “lifestyle”.

There is a whole lot more to success than simply working hard and shining bright. I bet most people know someone who got that raise or got a promotion simply because they were family to the boss, or got “hooked up” with a job. It isn’t being a victim by noticing this fact, and it isn’t being a victim by noticing when public officials who are ALREADY making well in to the six figures are getting double digit percentage raises in an area where many educated professionals are barely getting raises at all.

Those out there who keep saying, “if you don’t like it, then leave” may soon get their wish. Families and middle class workers may just start packing up and leaving the area. At some point, when income does not keep up with basic COLA, then people have no choice.

I think every employee who makes less than these “leaders” should print out articles like these and simply acrue the evidence. Show your boss, your union if you have one, your human resources personnel. That’s not being a victim, it is being a self advocate, it is cost saving for the employer by helping retain workers.


Let’s start by saying that I think government overpays for their staff and mismanages money. I know the moderator will chastise me for making this personal, but, I am trying to make a point. Daily, you post about your unfair wages, regardless of the article. This particular article has nothing to do with wages in healthcare. If you are so focused on that, rather than excelling at your job, you will never show your employer your value, but, will be recognized as a malcontent. It is impossible to satisfy someone that will complain multiple times daily. Your employer will never give you a raise if you focus on complaining about your wages. He/she will resist until they are in a position to send you packing.


When I mention healthcare, it is meant as a general comparison. It is something that does have union and non union workers, something I know about (I know how the pay, raises, and safety work), and I know how public vs private pay works for nurses and healthcare. If I knew of another career path to compare, oh, say engineering, I would use that. But I do not.

When I see articles like this post, where a fire chief is getting 20k a year raise, utility workers getting 10 percent raise, etc, there is nothing wrong with taking yet another moment to reflect on why segments of the population are getting raises when others are not. We live in the same community. We have the same basic costs of living. These people did nothing special to receive their raises. It was just time.

Don’t worry about my performance. Every work eval I have ever received, which I have EVERY copy of, is stellar. It doesn’t mean employers have to give raises. I am not a fire chief, or a City attorney though. I DO have quite a few lovely patient cards, letters of thanks, and this LOVELY Central coast weather…….it really is payment in and of itself.

It really is ok to toot your own horn when you are a good worker. Employers might roll their eyes a bit, but they know it is true.


Not justifying the pay raises for government employees. Rather than tooting your horn, why not ask some simple questions. Mr/Mrs Employer, it is becoming a concern that I haven’t obtained a pay raise in x years. What things can I accomplish in the next 6-12 months to insure that I can obtain a raise then? What are the biggest challenges you are faced with in our department/company, etc? How can I help address those? You may understand your industry from the employee side, but, it appears that you are paying little attention to the declining revenues that providers are receiving due to reimbursement levels from Obamacare and other insurers patterning their reimbursements after that. Look at Cuesta Medical Group, Dr. Vaughn in Morro Bay, Dr. Colton in Atascadero as examples of this. All have greatly revamped their practices over the last 3-5 years with Cuesta and Vaughn joining Dignity and Colton joining a “VIP” program that requires an annual fee of $2000 just to have him as your primary care physician. I only know of these due to those having been providers used by family members. I am certain everyone can tell similar stories, so yes, there will be no raises in healthcare under the current business atmosphere. If you want to change things, vote for the right people (you may have already) and work to change the situation politically that has taken us here.


How strange to read the salaries must be competitive to get qualified applicants. When I was newly graduated from Cal Poly I was told even entry level jobs were highly sought after for highly experienced candidates who just want to live in the area. Now we pay the city manager more than the Vice President of the United States, what the heck?


I thought part of the benefits package was just the sheer joy of living on the Central Coast. That is pay in and of itself. At least, that’s what they tell us at my place of employment. “But Centralcoastrn, you get to live at the coast. The weather is beautiful. A lot of people would PAY to live here.”

REALLY????? Then why are we giving the Fire chief and all these management people 12-17 percent raises? Shouldn’t the SHEER JOY of living on the Central Coast be payment on it’s own???

I am going to print this crap out and take it in to my employer to show them that apparently NO, the weather is NOT payment. Apparently 12 percent is in order…..


Ha! You forget they’re not real dollars, they’re tax dollars!


And there is always another tax increase, new fee, or other way we can get an increase when we need it for higher salaries, benefits and pensions or more positions for our friends and family, because the voters as so easily fooled to vote for what we want……


B*tch all you want but we keep voting these people in and passing these BS bond and tax measures. We have met the enemy and he is us.


Besides a Police Chief, the job of Fire Chief seems like pretty much the safest job imaginable yet they make sooo much $$$.


Speaking of the San Luis Obispo city management and the Fire Department. Why was the street and sidewalk behind the fire Station #1 never installed/finished when they built it (before 2007)?

Then they built the emergency dispatch center 15 feet from a 16″ High pressure natural gas pipe line, but still could not complete the sidewalk, curb and drains behind the fire station( 2010 for 5.9Mil).

A private contractor would never get a occupancy permit without finishing the sidewalk, curb and storm drains etc. Thats just a tiny sample of SLO city management.

See for your self

Please Vote.

Mr. Holly

Take care of the department heads and they will take care of city manager.

Who are they competing with? That is a crock, they are who they are and should be paid accordingly and not compared to other large cities. They should be compared to Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande and Atascadero. A medical run is a medical run no matter where it’s at except maybe in SLO where they have a hook and ladder truck-ridiculous to respond with. A fire is a fire no matter where it is.

Check out http://www.transparentcalifornia and you can compare these salaries to what everyone out of government receive-it will make you sick.

All of this is going to have to come to and end some day and hopefully before November 2016.

Kevin Rice

Hook-and-ladder is a very antiquated term. Tiller truck, quint (for trucks that include water and a pump), ladder truck, or just truck are preferred.

Mr. Holly

Still a waste of money to roll the equipment on a medical run. In larger cities a para medic is dispatched along with an engine company not a tiller truck. What is the cost per mile to operate that truck compared to an engine truck. Just another case of unlimited spending without justification, like the pay increases.


Maybe the correct term should be Crook and Ladder in SLO because the City of SLO really does not need that ladder! Oh yea, I forgot, they kick ass with Cal Poly and the local taxpayers paid for Cal Poly to have it accessible. We get screwed again!

Kevin Rice

By the way, a ladder truck is a critically important piece of equipment for structure fires and extrication rescues. The city could purchase another engine and hire nine more firefighters to staff it; or, they could respond the truck on medical rescues. It’s only ridiculous if you fail to take notice of that trade-off.

Mr. Holly

No it’s just common sense and not the fleecing of the taxpayers by the fire department.


SLO could also sell that ~!@#$%^&*() “tiller truck” boondoggle and replace it with a Toyota Yaris automobile and a medical kit about the size of a suitcase (which is fairly close to what they do in much of Western Europe.)

It would get paramedics/EMTs to the scene far faster/safer and at about 1/100th of the cost.

I wonder if the SLO City Council Members and the SLO Fire Chief have any idea just how much bad-will that “tiller truck” boondoggle generates when it’s used for grocery and Jamba Juice runs? Its very existence in SLO is offensive.


Typical fireman talk, Kevin!


I like that. ‘Pay raises are based on position classifications, not individuals..’

No need to be a good worker. Just be a SLO worker and you’re taken care of.

…well we made these rules for ourselves, what’s wrong with that?…