Residents sound off about city manager pay range
Reactions to the salary range to attract Carson City’s next city manager ran the gamut from askance to ho-hum.
They came in the aftermath of the consolidated city’s Board of Supervisors establishing a pay range of $140,000 to $180,000 annually, with benefits atop that. The five board members even left wiggle room in case they turn up a candidate for whom they want to bid higher. The low end of the range is about what Larry Werner was making when he retired last month.
“I kind of figure when I hire a new employee, I don’t start where the last one left off,” said Jed Block, businessman and volunteer on three city advisory panels dealing with redevelopment, historic resources and property tax equalization. Block said, for example, that businesspeople don’t try to replace someone who got raises over time at that final pay level, preferring instead to set a target range lower.
Block also complained of ever-ascending government taxes and fees at local and state levels. But Block, whose business is State Agent and Transfer Syndicate Inc., also used an analogy to indicate he knows lowballing may not always be the best approach.
“You don’t always get the best on the low bid,” he said.
Offering another business perspective was Stan Jones of The Purple Avocado gift shop. He is the immediate past chairman at Carson City’s Chamber of Commerce.
“That’s pretty generous,” he said, talking about the $180,000 top of the range. When you add in city perks that come in the form of benefits, he said, it’s “a good salary” that may eclipse the pay for many department heads in state government. He also noted that the top two city posts could wind up costing taxpayers in excess of $400,000.
Deputy City Manager Marena Works, now the interim city manager while a search for Werner’s replacement is under way, received $125,000 when she took the deputy post. She is getting a temporary 10 percent bump during her time as the interim.
Jones added, however, that he was pleased to see strong language included about the board reserving the right to require the next city manager live in Carson City. Werner lived in Douglas County.
A west side Carson City resident wasn’t particularly perturbed with the range.
“I don’t have a problem with the city manager’s salary if he or she does a good job for our city, and is worth it,” said Margena Ricciardi. She said, however, that taxes and fees continually going higher — particularly water rates during a drought — are another matter entirely. She said her watering costs have zoomed about 40 percent in recent years.
“Nice pay if you can get the job,” said Bob Lamkin of Bob’s Shell. Lamkin said he didn’t know what Werner made before leaving, and when told, he added, “I don’t think it should be any higher than what he made.”
He also decried city borrowing proposed to do capital improvement projects that he feels may not be needed, and lamented government spending decisions at various levels.
“Nobody wants to tighten their belt,” he said.
Walt Owens, owner-operator of Owens Precision machining, was skeptical of the salary decision’s top range as well.
“That seems, at $180,000, a little high for a city our size,” Owens said. He said anything like $160,000 to $180,000 should attract a pool of talent, but it is higher than in the past.
“The market is the market,” said Linda Ritter, the city manager who preceded Werner. She said, however, that she doesn’t track that governmental salary market these days and couldn’t render an informed and data-specific opinion.
City Finance Director Nick Providenti, however, did offer one that he felt was pretty much keyed to surrounding market forces for similar governmental roles.
“I think it’s fine,” he said of the range. “Personally, I think the number should be $175,000.” He said he based that on his analysis that larger governmental entities were paying a little more than that and smaller ones a little less for top spots. He added there are additional factors for this city’s staff leader.
“Carson City is unique because it’s both a city and a county,” he said.
Also contacted in the salary range decision’s aftermath was Fire Chief Stacey Giomi, who expressed his possible interest in the city’s top spot after Werner’s resignation. He now says he hasn’t yet decided and may keep mum anyway for a while, whatever he does, because the board wants a confidential process at this stage.
Werner, meanwhile, said that when he moved up from development services director and city engineer to take the city manager’s role six years ago he was making about $120,000, though he couldn’t recall the precise amount.
He said initially he took the role for just a year, as he was near retirement age, but it became interesting and he stayed on.
He also said he remained a resident in Douglas County and indicated continuing at about the same amount initially was a trade-off of sorts. He added he didn’t think much about compensation because retirement loomed.
“To me, it wasn’t a big deal,” he said.