(The Center Square) – Hundreds of Seattle's city employees out-earned the mayor last year, according to a recent fiscal analysis of the city's salary data.
Seattle has been ranked poorly for its financial health, even before the coronavirus pandemic. Truth in Accounting (TIA), a nonpartisan think tank, published a report in January ranking Seattle as the 44th-worst financially among the cities it canvassed, and gave its financial health a “D” grade.
At the time, if all taxpayers were to pay the city’s debt, they would each owe $5,400.
“Seattle’s elected officials have made repeated financial decisions that have left the city with a debt burden of $1.5 billion,” the report said. Its financial problems “stem mostly from unfunded retirement obligations that have accumulated over the years. Of the $6.2 billion in retirement benefits promised, the city has not funded $1.4 billion in pension and $627.3 million in retiree health care benefits.”
Part of this problem is the six-figure salaries city employees earn on the taxpayer dime, according to a recent analysis published by the nonprofit organization, OpentheBooks.com.
“Only in Seattle do the tree trimmers make $160,000 per year,” argued Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of Open the Books.
Open the Books’ auditors audited Seattle’s 2019 salary payments and pension records. It found that in 2019, 601 Seattle city employees out-earned Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose annual salary is $199,593.
The mayor’s salary is higher than 49 out of 50 state governors.
City council member Teresa Mosqued, who vowed to slash the Seattle Police Department’s $400 million budget by half, earns more ($131,336) than New York general assembly members’ base pay of $130,000, which is the highest compensated state legislature in the country.
Open the Books has published the entire payroll of the Seattle Police Department. Among its highly compensated employees, 1,326 made six-figures or more and 364 employees’ salaries were more than $200,000.
It also published the salaries of the Seattle Fire Department. Among its highly compensated employees, 866 earned six figures, and 59 earned more than $200,000.
Taxpayer-funded city employees annually earn $160,604 for cutting trees, the audit found. Seattle’s chief librarian received an annual salary of $197,704; city electricians earn earned $271,070; electrical line workers earned $307,387; and some police officers earned up to $414,543.
“Seattle’s long-term financial situation looks bleak,” Andrzejewski writes in an analysis of the data published by Forbes. “The city has guaranteed $6.2 billion in retirement benefits to its workforce yet hasn’t funded $2 billion of those promises (2018),” pointing to TIA data.
“Progressive critics from the Autonomous Zone and conservative fiscal hawks both decry a misallocation of resources by Seattle city government,” he adds. “And both camps can point to hard data to make their case.”