I posted a video back in 2010 that used biting humor to complain about overpaid firefighters.
That video stirred a hornet’s nest, generating some spirited debate in the comments section. But there was no resolution, in part because you can’t make sweeping judgements when firefighter pay is determined locally.
Some firefighters may be underpaid and some almost certainly are overpaid.
And you can find a jaw-dropping example of the latter category in southern California.
Andrew Biggs at the American Enterprise Institute looks into a controversyabout compensation levels for firefighters in Orange County and says the critics are wrong – but also right – about excessive pay and benefits for the firefighting bureaucracy.
UnionWatch.org reports that the average firefighter in Orange County, California pulls in total pay and benefits of $234,000 per year, making them among the best-paid public employees – and, for that matter, among the best-paid of any kind of employees – in the country. But is this true? No. But yes. UnionWatch relies on compensation data provided by Orange County itself, which appears to buttress their claims. Average salaries for firefighters top $91,000, on top of which they typically receive another $65,000 in overtime and other supplementary pay. Firefighters then receive an employer pension employer contribution of around $61,000 and health insurance benefits of about $15,000, for a total of over $234,000.
Here’s why UnionWatch.org is incorrect.
…why is this not right? Because in Orange County and most other cities and states, much of the employer’s pension contribution is to pay off unfunded liabilities from prior years, which is different from pension benefits earned by employees in the current year. Only the latter is truly compensation. The “normal cost” of Orange County Fire pension benefits accruing this year is about 23.49 percent of salaries, or around $37,685. So, average annual compensation would be around $23,000 less, so make that total compensation of about $211,000. Still not shabby, but less than the headline.
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