About half the city’s roughly 10,000 staffers have received salary increases since mid-2009, even as politicians and labor leaders touted a crackdown on pay hikes.

memo obtained by Voice of San Diego reveals 5,110 non-hourly city workers on the payroll when the city cut nearly all staffers’ salaries and benefits by 6 percent later received pay hikes. Another 561 employees hired since have also received increases, according to the Feb. 21 memo from the independent budget analyst’s office. The city said it had nearly 10,120 staffers in its latest budget.

The memo was sent to City Council members after a request from Councilman Kevin Faulconer.

The raises detailed in the report clashes with years of City Hall rhetoric about wage cuts and pay freezes. Throughout his tenure, former Mayor Jerry Sanders claimed he held the line on staffers’ salaries, and union leaders have repeatedly decried the years city employees have gone without raises.

The memo comes as new Mayor Bob Filner begins negotiating with city unions in hopes of reaching five-year agreements, a move recommended by the city’s pension initiative. Filner has said he’d like to reward staffers who have done their part to shore up the city’s finances by enduring years of cuts and forgoing across-the-board raises.

The last across-the-board raise came in 2008, when Sanders increased police pay because he said it was necessary to recruit and retain officers.

But the city budget analyst’s memo shows some staffers received pay hikes due to promotions or previously agreed upon increases based on qualifications or the amount of time spent on the job.

Among the 561 employees who were hired after the 6 percent pay cut but who received raises: More than 165 public-safety employees who received pay increases after they graduated from police and fire academies.

The memo doesn’t clarify whether staffers received raises for other reasons or how many raises each city department — other than increases doled out to new police and firefighters — gave out after the 6 percent cut took effect.

Lisa Byrne, the budget analyst who compiled the report, could not provide more detailed breakdowns on employee raises. She said some city staffers may have experienced cuts in benefits during the same period they received raises due to the 6 percent cuts, which employee unions individually negotiated with the city.

The city’s personnel department, which provided the numbers cited in the report, did not immediately provide additional information about the salary increases.

The budget analyst’s memo followed a Feb. 15 request from Faulconer, who said he inquired about city salaries in hopes of clarifying whether city staffers had received pay hikes since 2009.

Faulconer said he wanted to ensure City Council members considered all relevant information as they weigh possible five-year agreements and the budget for next year.

“It’s important to know that salary increases don’t have to be locked into a labor contract for employees to be treated fairly for their performance,” he said.

Michael Zucchet, who leads the San Diego Municipal Employees Association, said the memo didn’t reveal anything new.

Contracts with city workers’ unions have long guaranteed increases based on time served and other variables. A spike in turnover and retirements meant more staffers were promoted in recent years, he said.

“It’s not inconsistent with the fact that all of those classifications across all departments, across all safety and general personnel, have not had a cost-of-living increase in a number of years,” Zucchet said.

He also questioned whether certain groups, such as high-level managers or particular city departments, contributed to the bulk of the raises. Last year, we reported that a handful of top city staffers received pay increases despite the city’s cutbacks.

We have requested more information from the city’s personnel department and will follow up once we receive those details.

Staff salary increases weren’t the only takeaway from the memo.

The city comptroller’s office also provided details on bonuses, which revealed Faulconer’s office paid out heftier bonuses to his staffers than fellow City Council members in recent years.

In the 2009 fiscal year, Faulconer doled out $18,000 to staffers on top of their salaries, more than double what other council members paid. Faulconer did not give bonuses after 2009 and his council colleagues have not given bonuses for nearly two years.

The councilman said the bonuses were performance incentives for his staffers and that he stopped giving them after the 6 percent cut went into effect.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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