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Special districts vary in staffing, salaries

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Posted: Friday, May 2, 2008 10:00 pm

Some workers who provide fire and water service in rural areas outside Lodi are well-paid, while others run on a shoestring budget. Take the local fire chiefs for example.

Woodbridge Chief Michael Kirkle earned more in 2007 than other rural chiefs north of Stockton with almost $108,000. Meanwhile, Stan Seifert from Liberty Fire received $37,804 in salary. That goes up to a little more than $40,000 when you look at how much the district spends in fringe benefits for him. Everyone else came in between.

The differences represent the difference in the physical size of the districts as well as the number of employees the chief supervises. Salaries ranged across the board for fire districts, but also for most of the area's special districts, which include irrigation districts and the county's mosquito and vector control district.

Clements Chief Dave Ingrum earned a gross salary of $55,821 in 2007; Thornton Chief Vince Tafuri received a little more than $45,000; while Mokelumne Chief Dan Leary got $40,421.71, which includes the amount that is removed for payroll deductions. Leary does not receive any benefits paid by the district.

Leary is only a part-time chief, working Tuesday through Thursday of each week. Several of his paid firefighters make considerably more than he does.

Stan Seifert's work week as Liberty fire chief ranges from 20 to 60 hours. His duties range from conducting training for the paid and volunteer firefighters, doing paperwork and attending about seven meetings a month.

Seifert spends much of his time growing corn for silage at his Acampo ranch and raising alfalfa hay in Nevada.

The News-Sentinel requested from rural districts how much taxpayers pay for salaries and benefits for their employees. The California Supreme Court has ruled that all salaries by government employees are available to the public through the California Public Records Act.

Another dynamic to fire service is that some firefighters are paid employees, while others are considered volunteers. However, Woodbridge Fire Chief Michael Kirkle considers the term "volunteer" a misnomer.

Top 10 Rural Fire District Salaries
Name Title District Salary (2007)
Michael Kirkle Chief Woodbridge $106,871
Susan Barfoot Admin. Officer Woodbridge/Clements $89,027
Steven Peeples Captain Mokelumne $86,819.44
Steven Butler Captain Woodbridge $74,999
Jon Mettler Captain Mokelumne $74,333.88
Rob Firman Captain Mokelumne $74,333.88
Jaime Ramirez Engineer Woodbridge $71,307
Michael Jennings Engineer Woodbridge $70,222
Dave Ingrum Chief Clements $68,531
Ken Harris Operations Chief Woodbridge $66,995
Note: Mokelumne figures include district cost of benefits to each employee; Woodbridge and Clements provided only gross salaries.

"Volunteering isn't what it used to be," Kirkle said. "We've become a transient society, and people no longer work where they live. During the day, you may not have the pool of personnel of volunteers."

Woodbridge has eight so-called volunteers, but they're actually part-time employees. They get $8 per hour, except for some long-term "volunteers," who get $8.50, Kirkle said.

In other districts, volunteers get paid for each fire call in which they respond.

In the Liberty fire district, which serves most of the area east of Highway 99 between the Mokelumne River and Sacramento County line, volunteers get $5 to $8 per call, Seifert said. Those who have been with the district a long time may get $15 per call because of their experience and as a reward for sticking with the fire district so long, Seifert said.

Top 10 Water, Sewer District Salaries
Name Title District Salary
Anders Christensen Manager Woodbridge Irrigation $107,745.58 (2006)
Joe Salzman General Manager Lockeford Community Services District $74,064.20 (2007)
Mike McPhee Operations Manager Lockeford Community Services District $54,553.88 (2007)
Jim Schultz Operations/Maintenance Superintendent Woodbridge Irrigation District $53,776.17 (2006)
Pete Weinzheimer Watermaster North San Joaquin Water Conservation District $49,289.64 (2007)
Agustin Hernandez Laborer Woodbridge Irrigation District $41,711.08 (2006)
Jennifer Duffy Office Manager Woodbridge Irrigation District $41,258.70 (2006)
Marvin Bargagliotti Ditch Tender Woodbridge Irrigation District $40,262.93 (2006)
Antonio Contreras Laborer Woodbridge Irrigation District $39,059.78 (2006)
Apolonio Oropeza Laborer Woodbridge Irrigation District $38,324.52 (2006)
Note: Woodbridge Irrigation District did not provide benefit costs for individual employees. Lockeford district figures include benefits.

"It's to reimburse the guys for their costs, getting up, their clothing and vehicles," he said. "It's not for guys to make money out of."

How rural fire and water agencies, known as "special districts," are run and financed by taxpayers vary. No two districts are alike, said Susan Barfoot, administrative officer for the Woodbridge and Clements fire districts.

For example, the Woodbridge Rural Fire Protection District has the largest number of firefighters because it covers a larger area than Woodbridge. It covers Acampo west of Cherokee Road, rural west Lodi out to Flag City and unincorporated areas between Lodi and Stockton.

Meanwhile, Clements has a small business area near Highway 88 and Mackville Road, but most of the community is farmland. Fire Chief Ingrum is the only full-time employee. Structure fires, grass fires and medical emergencies are otherwise in the hands of volunteers, who get paid by the call.

Other districts, such as Mokelumne Fire, are a hybrid of the two. Mokelumne, which covers Lockeford, Victor and rural Lodi areas south of Victor Road, has a part-time chief, nine paid firefighters and a host of volunteers as well.

Service districts

Rural areas surrounding Lodi have water, sewer and irrigation service, either by small districts or what is known as a "county service area." Lockeford has a community services district that provides domestic water and sewer service, while Woodbridge has a sanitary district that provides wastewater service only.

And in the irrigation business, the Lodi area is divided into two districts - the Woodbridge Irrigation and North San Joaquin Water Conservation districts.

North San Joaquin covers the city of Lodi roughly east of Ham Lane, plus Acampo and rural areas east of Highway 99, while Woodbridge Irrigation has the area west of Lodi Lake, including Flag City and Thornton.

Top 10 Salaries for Regional Organizations
Name Agency Salary
Andrew Chesley SJCOG $160,596.80
John Stroh Mosquito $145,116.86
Steven Dial SJCOG $144,000.00
Dana Cowell SJCOG $135,948.80
Eddie Lucchesi Mosquito $127,107.78
Kevin Sheridan SJCOG $105,000.00
James Glazer LAFCO $104,000.00
Susan Filios SJCOG $103,001.60
Duane Bridgewater Mosquito $99,151.89
Stacy Bearden Mosquito $97,457.16
Key: SJCOG - San Joaquin County Council of Governments; LAFCO - Local Agency Formation Commission; Mosquito - San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District
Note: SJCOG numbers are salaries and overtime for the 2007-08 fiscal year; LAFCO numbers are salaries and overtime for 2007; Mosquito abatement district numbers are salaries and benefits for 2006.

Woodbridge has the much larger staffing of the two. It is led by Andy Christensen, who made more than $107,000 in 2006. His North San Joaquin counterpart, Ed Steffani, makes $30,000 a year. Steffani's only employee, Watermaster Pete Weinzheimer, makes more than $38,000. Weinzheimer receives health and retirement benefits that cost the district about $11,000 annually, while Steffani doesn't get any benefits.

Meanwhile, Woodbridge has 15 employees, said John Wookey, assistant to the manager.

North San Joaquin Manager Ed Steffani said that Woodbridge may have more employees because it has a dam and large irrigation canal system to operate and maintain, while North San Joaquin doesn't.

In Woodbridge, there is a small district with no full-time employees that provides sewer service only. But in Lockeford, a community services district provides water, sewer and park development service. The Lockeford Community Services District has five employees, three of whom are full-time.

Regional districts

Some special districts are large and regional in nature. In San Joaquin County, they include the Council of Governments, which prioritizes transportation needs; the Local Agency Formation Commission, which rules on boundary changes; and the Mosquito and Vector Control District, which fights mosquitoes, primarily to prevent people and animals from getting West Nile Virus.

The Council of Governments has five employees who make more than $100,000, and six others who are making more than $80,000 during the 2007-08 fiscal year.

The mosquito and vector control district has one employee, General Manager John Stroh, who makes $115,000, and another, Eddie Lucchesi, who makes more than $93,000. When you take in benefit expenses taxpayers finance for employees, two other district staffers make close to $100,000.

LAFCO has only three employees, led by Interim Executive Officer James Glazer, who made $104,000 in 2007.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

This story was updated at 9:35 a.m. May 6, 2008, to clarify the time periods for which the San Joaquin County Council of Governments, Local Agency Formation Commission and San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District numbers apply.

This story was updated at 7:30 a.m. May 14, 2008, to clarify Mokelumne Fire Chief Dan Leary's salary.

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