Here’s another reason why California is broke.
Some fulltime lifeguards in Newport Beach in Southern California earn well over $100,000 in total compensation a year – more than what a nurse or doctor or college professor makes.
The Associated Press reports on May 20, 2011 that a debate has erupted in Newport Beach about its 13-member fulltime lifeguard crew ever since the local newspaper editorialized about lifeguard salaries, benefits and overtime pay that in at least two instances top $200,000 (with $400 for sun protection) as the city struggles to rein in pension costs.
The swell of anger from beachgoers and budget-watchers alike has blindsided the lifeguards, who have for years enjoyed the prestige of their jobs in an ocean-centric town that banks on summer tourism. Now, as the pressure mounts, they are balking at their portrayal as suntanned slackers lounging in beach towers as the surf rolls in.
Those whose salaries are in question point out that they hold management roles, have decades of service and are considered public safety employees under the fire department, the same as fire captains and battalion chiefs. The fulltime guards train more than 200 seasonal lifeguards who make between $16 and $22 an hour, run a junior lifeguard program that brings in $1 million a year and oversee safety on nearly seven miles of sand.
Base salaries for Newport Beach lifeguards range from $58,000 for the lowest-paid officer to $108,492 for the top-paid battalion chief, according to a 2010 city report on lifeguard pay. Adding in overtime, special compensation, pension, medical benefits, life insurance and other pay, two battalion chiefs cleared more than $200,000 in 2010, while the lowest-paid officer made more than $98,000.
All lifeguards received $400 in sunscreen allowance and two cleared $28,000 apiece in overtime and night duty pay.
Newport Beach’s lifeguards can also retire at 50 with 90 percent of their salary with 30 years of service, according to state data.
“Because of the compensation, lifeguarding has evolved from a brief and youthful interlude into a career and that’s probably what’s most shocking,” said Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, who added that in the winter the fulltime lifeguards stayed busy answering phones and painting guard towers. “I think people are looking for elected officials to be more fiscally conservative. We love lifeguards, but that’s not the issue.”
In budget talks, City Manager David Kiff proposed converting four of the fulltime positions to part-time status, a move the full city council is expected to review in the coming weeks.
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