What your city and county pay their workers: The best-paid likely aren’t who you think

·5 min read

Want to make $100,000 working for a city government? Easy. Just dedicate your life to a specific government role and eventually work your way up to leading that city department.

An Idaho Statesman analysis of several Treasure Valley cities’ payrolls show that across the community, leaders of departments (such as fire and police chiefs, public works directors, and several elected roles, including sheriff and county clerk) consistently earn the highest salaries in municipal governments.

The Statesman requested pay information from the cities of Boise, Meridian, Caldwell and Nampa, as well as from Ada and Canyon counties. Pay information for government employees is public record, and all the numbers in this story are current as of January.

Here’s what we learned:

Meridian pays the highest, on average

Meridian’s average hourly wage comes out to $30.36 hourly, or about $63,145 a year, higher than any of the other cities or counties examined.

The city’s highest-paid employee as of January was Tracy Basterrechea, the deputy chief of police. He has since been promoted to chief, but at the time, he made about $144,705 a year. He now makes $149,043, a city spokesperson confirmed Thursday.

Tracy Basterrechea, chief of the Meridian Police Department.
Tracy Basterrechea, chief of the Meridian Police Department.

Other high-paid employees include William Nary, the city attorney, who makes $140,317; Dale Bolthouse, the public works director, $131,261; and then-acting Fire Chief Charles Butterfield, $128,816. (Meridian has since hired Kris Blume to head the fire department — Blume makes $122,961.) Several police lieutenants are also among the highest-paid.

The city’s lowest-paid employees were largely temporary part-time employees, including scorekeepers for the parks department, who made $8.50 an hour. It’s likely that per hour, only Meridian City Council members are compensated less: Five of the six councilors make $13,500 for what is considered a part-time role. Treg Bernt, president of the council, makes $14,850.

Mayor Robert Simison made $92,776, or about $44.60 hourly for a full-time role.

Boise has the most employees of any city

About 2,000 people work for the city of Boise, including part timers, and the city’s average hourly wage comes out to $27.15 hourly, making it the third-highest of the governments examined (behind Meridian and Ada County).

Boise has the largest budget of any city in the state. It comes in at about $730.5 million for the 2021 fiscal year, with about 23% dedicated to personnel expenses. Employees historically have gotten raises of up to 3% each year, but the 2021 fiscal year slowed that.

Public records show that no employee made less than $8 an hour as of January. That’s a change from previous years, Mayor Lauren McLean noted Wednesday. Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25.

Boise Parks & Recreation crews mow the grass fields at Optimist Youth Sports Complex on Thursday. Boise has about 2,000 employees, who make on average $27.15 per hour.
Boise Parks & Recreation crews mow the grass fields at Optimist Youth Sports Complex on Thursday. Boise has about 2,000 employees, who make on average $27.15 per hour.

“We tried to address some of the lower-paid employees in the little bit of money we had to do pay increases,” she said. “Those at the library, whose pay was relatively low, we increased to bring it to what was determined to be a living wage.”

Pages, the library’s lowest-paid employees, now make at least $11.17 an hour. A library assistant, the lowest-paid library employee who works full time, makes $13.53.

All employees making $8 an hour are part time, and include gate attendants at Zoo Boise, a water education assistant at the public works department and a golf shop attendant.

Boise’s highest paid employee is Rebecca Hupp, director of the Boise Airport, who makes $187,491 a year. Police Chief Ryan Lee makes $180,003, and Fire Chief Mark Niemeyer makes $173,014.

Rebecca Hupp, director of the Boise Airport.
Rebecca Hupp, director of the Boise Airport.

Mayor Lauren McLean makes $145,099. Each member of the City Council makes $26,430 (plus $150 a day if serving as acting mayor in McLean’s absence). The council voted to forgo 3% raises for its members and McLean last year.

The highest-paid employees may not be who you expect

The highest-paid employee working in the local governments the Statesman looked at was Garth Warren, chief forensic pathologist with the Ada County Coroner’s office, who makes $318,648.

Dr. Garth Warren, a pathologist for the coroner’s office, is the highest-paid employee in Ada County.
Dr. Garth Warren, a pathologist for the coroner’s office, is the highest-paid employee in Ada County.

Forensic pathologists are specialized jobs. Warren is board certified in clinical pathology, anatomical pathology, forensic pathology and neuropathology, according to his biography on the county’s website.

Ada County also has some of the other highest-paid employees as well, including Stephen O’Meara, who oversees the county’s technology as chief information officer and makes $198,929.

In most governments, elected officials are near the top, but rarely at the top. In Boise, McLean makes less than her chief of staff, Courtney Washburn, who makes $161,262 annually.

Mayors are typically the highest-paid elected officials in their cities, but their pay often falls below that of career employees like department directors and high-ranking public safety personnel, such as police lieutenants and deputy fire chiefs. McLean is the 12th-highest paid employee in Boise. Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas, who makes $93,220 a year, is seventh. Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling, who makes $89,606, is 28th, and Meridian’s Simison is 61st.

It’s a little different in counties. Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor is the county’s highest-paid employee, making $139,200 annually. Sheriff Kieran Donahue, who makes $115,536, is the eighth-highest paid. Canyon County commissioners each make $95,891, tied for the 36th-highest paid.

Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor is the county’s highest paid employee, making $139,200 a year.
Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor is the county’s highest paid employee, making $139,200 a year.

In Ada County, which has a larger budget, Prosecutor Jan Bennetts ranks third on the county payrolls, making $168,479. Sheriff Stephen Bartlett makes $143,452, making him the eighth-highest paid county employee. Ada County commissioners each make $117,550. Ada County has appointed a committee of residents to advise officials on pay levels for elected officials.

To see how other government employees are paid in the Treasure Valley, visit idahostatesman.com/databases.