Proposed raise exposes Cambria’s financial blunders
June 22, 2016
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Less than two months after public outrage prompted the Cambria Community Services District to table a staggered 38 percent pay raise for the CSD general manager, the salary hike is again up for a vote. This time, the district board is only considering a 6 percent salary increase.
In June 2011, the Cambria CSD board voted to hire Jerry Gruber as its general manager at a salary of $150,000 a year plus benefits. In April, district staff recommended that the board approve a series of pay hikes that would have raised Gruber’s salary to $221,984 by 2020. Including benefits, Gruber’s pay would have increased to about $310,778 a year.
After members of the public complained about the proposal, the district removed the pay raise from the board agenda. The district also removed the staff report on the proposed pay hike from the board’s meeting packet.
On Thursday, district staff will ask the CSD board to raise Gruber’s pay by $11,230. The raise would bump Gruber’s base salary from $160,808 to $170,456 and grant him a slight increase in benefits.
Though the proposed salary hike has decreased, it is unclear how much money Gruber is actually making. Amid the controversy surrounding Gruber’s salary, significant discrepancies have surfaced between what CSD staff reported Gruber’s salary was to the state controller’s office and what they reported to the board.
The April staff report claimed Gruber was making $167,240 a year in regular pay. However, the California State Controller’s Office database states Gruber received $197,429 in total wages in 2014. In the database, total wages include regular pay, overtime, bonus pay and vacation and sick leave.
After CalCoastNews reporters questioned the discrepancies, CSD staff removed the report from the April agenda. In addition, on April 28, Cambria Finance Manager Patrick O’Reilly wrote that the data they had provided the state in their 2014 government compensation report was inaccurate, according to an email from O’Reilly to the state controller’s office.
“I made a mistake in some of the data I reported for the 2014 government compensation report and would like to know how I can submit updated information,” O’Reilly wrote in the April 28 email.
On May 3, O’Reilly sent revised employee compensation reports for 2014 and 2015 to the state controller’s office, according to an email and the reports.
CSD staff initially sent a report to the controller’s office stating that in 2014, Gruber received $190,721 in base pay, as well as 5,400 in other pay and $1,308 in lump sum pay. The revised report shows Gruber received $159,026 in base pay, $5,400 in other pay and $17,508 in lump sum pay.
For 2015, the district originally reported to the state that Gruber received $171,362 in base pay and $5,400 in other pay. CSD officials then sent a “corrected” report showing Gruber received $160,808 in base pay, $5,400 in other pay and $10,554 in lump sum pay.
District officials have ignored several phone calls and have opted not to respond to CalCoastNews’ questions regarding the discrepancies between the state reports and the CSD staff report.
In a staff report for Thursday’s meeting, district officials justify the proposed salary increase by stating the scope of Gruber’s job is very large and his work is complex.
The staff report states Gruber receives less pay than Oceano CSD General Manager Paavo Ogren, whose base salary is about $200,000. However, Ogren currently serves as the Oceano CSD’s accountant, in addition to its general manager. The accountant role represents about one third of Ogren’s salary.
Furthermore, the Oceano CSD is planning on hiring a business and accounting manager, and when that occurs, Ogren’s pay will fall well below Gruber’s. That would make Gruber the highest paid CSD general manager in San Luis Obispo County.
Gruber is already paid considerably more than Jeff Briltz, the general manager of the Templeton Community Services District. In 2014, Briltz received $138,061 in total wages and $37,932 in retirement and health benefits, according to the state controller’s office.
The Cambria and Templeton CSDs provide similar services, including water and fire protection, yet Cambria employees get paid significantly more even though they only work four days a week while Templeton operates on a full-time schedule.
In 2014, Cambria employees received an average wage of $45,443 and $17,405 in average health and pension benefits. Templeton employees received an average wage of $13,023 and $4,528 in average health and pension benefits, according to state data.
In addition, Cambria’s staffing costs are nearly twice as high as Templeton’s. In 2014, Cambria CSD’s total cost of wages and health and pension benefits was $3,268,079 while the Templeton CSD’s wages and health and pension benefits totaled $1,913,095.
Additionally, Cambria’s budget is twice the amount of Templeton’s, even though Templeton has a slightly higher population. Cambria has a budget of $9.4 million, and Templeton has a budget of approximately $5 million. Cambria’s population is around 6,000, while Templeton’s is around 7,700.
The proposed raise for Gruber has come at a time when many Cambria residents are already angered by the management of the district. In March, due to financial shortfalls, the CSD raised its water and sewage rates by 116 percent. In January, while members of the public were fighting against the rate increase, the board was already negotiating a large pay raise for Gruber.
Thursday’s meeting is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at the Cambria Veterans Hall.