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Nov 23, 2010 10:03 PM by Nancy Chen

Special Districts: Who Makes the Most?

Ever wonder just how much your government leaders are making?

We did--and took a look at the top paychecks in the Central Coast's special districts.

A lot of people pay for their salaries but don't even know what it is that they do.

Special districts are California's most common form of local government.

Many of them provide water and fire services for a single unincorporated area.

That means your water bills and property taxes contribute to their salaries.

They're known as special districts, and the people who run them think they're pretty special too.

"Those of us who are in public service, we just come from a different group of people," said Tammy Rudock, the general manager of the Cambria Community Service District. "We have servants' hearts, and this is what we feel we are good at doing, is being here to provide public service."

And those services often include water, sewage and fire protection.

But just how much are you paying for them?

We investigated the salaries of the people who run these districts on the Central Coast.

Oceano, Los Osos, San Miguel, Templeton, Nipomo and Cambria all have Community Service Districts, also known as C.S.D's.

The range for the salaries of general managers goes from $87,500 dollars in Oceano to more than $166,000 a year.

That belongs to the executive earning the most--Tammy Rudock, the general manager of Cambria's C.S.D.

That salary includes a housing allowance of $1250 a month because she's required to live in Cambria.

Her total compensation, including employer-paid taxes and benefits, adds up to more than $231,000.

We asked Rudock if she earns too much.

"No," she said. "I do not. The level of responsibility that we have here is as great as, if not greater, than any, any city manager, okay?"

Cambria is a tiny town with a population of about 6,000 people and an average household income of about 50,000 dollars, according to the most recent U.S. Census.

But talk around town sure is buzzing about these big salaries.

Some residents there say they even carry around a C.S.D.-published report of salaries for all 28 employees and talk about it at parties.

"I've seen the list," said Helen Pitton, a Cambria resident. "I know exactly what you're talking about. That's circulated around town. There are a lot of very frustrated residents here...people are talking about it all the time."

Some highlights from the list:

The district engineer takes home more than $127,000 a year.

His total compensation including employer-paid taxes and benefits is more than $183,000.

Another example is a wastewater operator who gets a salary of more than $69,000 a year.

His total compensation with employer-paid taxes and benefits comes to $102,000.

We asked Rudock--who sets their salaries--if it's a lot of money.

"Well, I guess it depends, Nancy," she said. "Do you want to turn on your water and not get sick?"

She says salaries have to be competitive so they can get the best employees.

She said she sacrificed a lot to be a public servant, so we asked her why she doesn't sacrifice the money as well.

"Because it's not a sacrifice to us," she said. "This is what it costs to provide this service."

It's a service that's not always accessible.

The Cambria C.S.D. office is closed to direct phone calls Mondays.

That's when it's walk-in's only.

All calls are directed to an answering service based in Bakersfield.

And it's completely closed to customers on Fridays.

Rudock says it's because they work nine hours a day and take every other Friday off.

"So every other Friday, our office is closed," Rudock said. "No one's here."

The office is only open to both calls and walk-in's from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays.

The C.S.D. experienced budget cuts in July and had to lay off two employees.

Rudock says the Cambria C.S.D. is just like a city except they rely on the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff for police protection.

They also use the County's Planning and Development Office for land use.

Rudock's salary is decided by the Cambria's C.S.D. Board of Directors.

Cambria's C.S.D. provides services for about 4,200 households.

So how does Rudock's salary, at $166,638.77, stack up with those statewide?

The average salary for general managers in California is about $110,000, according to the California Special Districts Association.

And the average for the general manager of a special district the size of Cambria is about $115,000.

Rudock says that's because a lot of special districts don't provide the same services Cambria's does.

Here is a more comprehensive list of the most recent general manager salaries:

Oceano: $87,500; Los Osos: $90,000; San Miguel: $91,150; Templeton: $115,000; Nipomo: $126,082; and Cambria: $166,539.

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