SACRAMENTO — New state data suggest that California special districts and their employees have weathered the economic downturn better than some of their government counterparts in cities and counties.
Virtually every Inland city and both Riverside and San Bernardino counties experienced drops in payroll between 2009 and 2010, adding up to more than $184 million in lost wageSource:State controller’s office
In the region’s special districts, another type of local government, total payroll fell about 2.4 percent, according to a review of special district payroll data compiled and released by the state controller’s office in early February. But some districts paid out more wages in 2010 than in 2009.
Idyllwild Water District, Valley Sanitary District in the Coachella Valley and Corona Utility Authority were among the Inland districts where payroll grew from 2009 to 2010. At the Jurupa Community Services District, total employee wages increased by about 11percent, to almost $8 million, one of the highest rates of growth in the area.
The wage increase came at the same time the district was raising customers’ water rates.
General Manager Eldon Horst said the population growth in the district in recent years forced it to add new management positions in its finance, human resources and information technology departments. The district’s service area, which covers the new cities of Eastvale and Jurupa Valley, grew from about 85,000 people in 2000 to more than 140,000 people in 2010, according to U.S. census data.
s, a decline of about 5.4 percent.
Also, Horst said the district board approved a pay increase for field employees, who a district survey showed were earning about 20 percent below their peers around the state.
“I don’t think there’s another agency in the state that has had the kind of (population) growth like we have,” Horst said. “When you have essential life services, those have to be provided, regardless of the economic downturn.”
District officials have again proposed raising water rates. Under one scenario, the rates could increase by 35percent over five years. Officials say the extra money is needed to build district reserves and to pay for more expensive water from wholesale suppliers. The district’s elected board, however, has refused to go along.
Board president Ken McLaughlin did not respond to requests for comment about the controller’s data.
Last month’s controller’s data were the first batch of 2010 payroll figures for the state’s more than 3,300 special districts.
The release, the most recent available, included more than 57,000 positions at almost 800 waste, fire, transit, transportation planning and police special districts, including several dozen in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. More special district data are due to be released throughout the spring.
Of those special districts that had reported 2009 numbers, their total payroll in 2010 dipped by a little more than 2 percent, according to the controller’s data.
By comparison, total payroll in California cities fell by about 8 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to the controller’s data. Counties’ total payroll loss was 2.3 percent.
In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the total payroll for special districts included in this month’s release decreased by 2.4percent. Inland cities, meanwhile, shed 5.5 percent of their payroll between 2009 and 2010. Riverside and San Bernardino counties collectively reduced their payroll by 5.3 percent.
There are many types of special districts around the state. They have various sources of revenue, different forms of government, and provide a range of services, from airport operation to mosquito abatement.
As of 2009-10, special districts had $40.1 billion in revenue, down from $40.3 billion in revenue in 2008-09. Spending increased slightly during that time, from $40.85 billion to $40.95 billion.
Neil McCormick, executive director of the California Special Districts Association, said the recession has been tough on special districts, particularly those that rely solely on property-tax revenue, which has fallen. Some districts have furloughed or laid off workers, he said.
“I think they’re experiencing generally a lot of the same pressures of the economy” as cities and counties, he said.
Unlike cities, special districts do not depend on sales-tax revenue, which sagged significantly in 2009 and 2010. Similar to counties, some districts rely heavily on property-tax revenue, which also fell.
Other special districts have more options to raise revenue. In particular, so-called enterprise special districts that provide specific services — such as water and sewer districts — are self-supporting through fees or charges.
“There are a huge variety of circumstances out there,” said Michael Coleman, an expert in local-government finances.
Some special districts in the Inland region had large drops in payroll spending from 2009 to 2010.
At the Riverside Transit Agency, which serves all of fast-growing western Riverside County, total payroll declined about $1.5 million, a 9percent decrease. It lost 12 positions, according to the controller’s data.
“Over the past few years, we have not added new service due to budget constraints, but we have managed to protect our core services without raising fares,” spokesman Bradley Weaver said.
State Controller John Chiang began posting payroll and pension information for local government positions on his website after well-publicized abuses in Bell and elsewhere. A searchable website is available at http://www.sco.ca.gov/compensation_search.html
The controller’s wage figures are ”total wages subject to Medicare taxes” as reported on an employee’s W-2 form. The amounts include overtime, vacation and cash payments for vacation, sick time and bonus leave.
There were 116 special districts covered by this month’s release that failed to submit the required 2010 data, according to Chiang’s office. The list includes San Bernardino Associated Governments and the Morongo Basin Transit Authority.
Also contributing to this report: Staff writer Sandra Stokley, email@example.com