The Mesa Water District is a persistent suitor. It keeps knocking on the Costa Mesa Sanitary District’s door, pressing a marriage proposal on the unwilling object of its affections. Most recently, the Mesa Water Board of Directors voted 3-2 in March to send a letter to the CMSD, proposing they jointly ask the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for what is known as a “municipal service review” of the two special districts.
A LAFCO municipal service review, or MSR, is sort of like giving two people personality tests to see if they’re a good match. A consistent Mesa Water theme is the claim it saves them both money to marry the two agencies. It’s a claim which CMSD contests, and one way to look at it is comparing the size and compensation of their respective staff, using data from TransparentCalifornia.com, which tracks compensation for every state and local government employee in the state.
Mesa Water has 64 employees with a combined total annual compensation cost of $6,866,879. Sitting at the top of the compensation pyramid is General Manager Paul Shoenberger. His annual salary is $266,077, according to the most recently available data; after including in benefits and other pay, his total compensation package is $346,599.
If that seems like a lot, it is. Too much, in the eyes of some critics. To put it in perspective, the CEO of the County of Orange, Frank Kim, who oversees a workforce of more than 18,000 employees and an annual budget of $6 billion, was paid a $234,681 salary. The City Manager of Anaheim, the county’s largest city with a budget of $1.7 billion and 3,500 employees, is paid a salary of $269,844. The CEO of Costa Mesa (which is coterminous with Mesa Water’s service area) runs a city with a budget of $144 million and nearly 800 employees and makes an annual salary of $217,655. The Executive Officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District – which regulates air quality for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties – is paid a $248,000 salary. The salary of the chief of the Orange County Fire Authority – which provides fire and emergency response services to 15 Orange County cities and the County of Orange – is $255,320.
Shoenberger makes more than any special district general manager in Orange County – even though Mesa Water is in the middle of the pack in terms of number of employees. In fact, Shoenberger may be the single-highest paid local government CEO in Orange County. Furthermore, last November, the Mesa Water Board of Directors voted to award Shoenberger a $10,000 incentive payment, in addition to his existing compensation.
CMSD General Manager Scott Carroll makes a comparatively modest $184,227, which is 41% less than Shoenberger. Such large compensation differentials aren’t confined to the top job, but extend throughout the two district’s respective payrolls.
23% of Mesa Water’s 64 employees have a base salary over $100,000, while only one CMSD staffer – General Manager Carroll – commands a salary of more than $100,000. In terms of total compensation, 56% of Mesa Water employees have annual compensation packages in excess of $100,000, compared to only 26% for CMSD.
A request for comment to the Mesa Water District regarding Shoenberger’s ”super-sized” compensation in comparison to larger local agencies with bigger budgets, more employees and broader governmental responsibilities, but no reply had been received by time of publication.
OC Daily contacted the Costa Mesa Sanitary District for its take on the comparative compensation imbalance, especially the size of Shoenberger’s compensation.
“It’s not for our agency to comment on the compensation structure of other local agencies,” said CMSD General Manager Scott Carroll. “We’re proud of our ability to provide a high level of service while staying debt-free, paying our staff fairly and focusing our resources on maintaining our physical infrastructure.”
“Our focus is on our customers, and we think it shows,” said Carroll.
Local watchdogs expressed skepticism over Mesa Water’s persistent desire to take over CMSD, especially in light of what some see as overly-generous compensation levels.
“It doesn’t make much sense,” said a local resident, Phil Marsh. “Costa Mesa Sanitary is good at what it does, it’s debt free, and operates transparently, which Mesa Water really doesn’t.”
“How would it benefit us to have it taken over by a top-heavy, debt-laden water district with no experience in running sewers or waste disposal, and that is run by an obviously over-paid general manager?”
That and other questions seem certain to keep percolating to the surface if Mesa Water continues pressing its unwelcome courtship of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District.