TransparentNevada reveals inflated salaries for government employees

More than 1,000 government employees made over $200,000 in total compensation in 2011

By Victor Joecks
  • Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pop quiz time.

Who made more in base pay in 2011: Gov. Brian Sandoval — at $143,426.25 — or the parks director for the City of Reno?

Who made more in base pay in 2011: Any of Clark County's 15 top-paid senior attorneys or Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who earned $140,389.37?

Finally, who made more in base pay in 2011: Gov. Brian Sandoval or the building and safety director for the City of Las Vegas?

Answer: in every case, the local government employees.

Reno's parks, recreation and community services director made $148,991.80 in base pay and $208,943.38 in total compensation. Fifteen senior attorneys in Clark County made $152,372.80 and well over $200,000 after including benefits and other pay. Las Vegas' building and safety director made $154,101.76 and a whopping $260,969.85 in total compensation.

This information comes from — a website provided by the Nevada Policy Research Institute and dedicated to serving Nevada's public by providing transparency on all aspects of state, county and city governments.

One of TransparentNevada's main features is its listing of government-employee salaries from over 45 different government agencies in the state.

This salary data — gathered from public-records requests and now including over 121,000 employee records from 2011 — is fully searchable by name, job title and jurisdiction. It provides lawmakers, media members and citizens at large with a quick and easy resource.

Such transparency is essential, given the eye-popping salaries of the officials described above. Moreover, those are just the tip of the iceberg, despite the constant cries of "cuts" from elected officials and government-employee unions.

Over 1,080 government employees in 2011 made more than $200,000 in total compensation. Over 2,150 made more than $175,000, between salary and benefits. Over 19,000 cost taxpayers more than $100,000.

These high salaries are seen in almost every jurisdiction in the state. In the Clark County School District 2,259 employees and in the Washoe County School District 394 employees made over $100,000 in 2011. That includes over $172,000 that the WCSD school police chief took home in total compensation for overseeing a department of 44 personnel.

In the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, 145 employees earned over $200,000 in total compensation. That includes 32 sergeants.

The Washoe County District Attorney received a hike in pay of over $18,000 in the last four years. Reno's director of parks, recreation and community services is making $12,000 more than she did three years ago. Even though she takes home over $208,000, she's not even the second highest paid parks and recreation director in Nevada. The parks and recreation directors for the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson take home $222,859.42 and $217,215.78, respectively.

What's amazing is that government salaries are this high throughout Nevada after five years of the worst economic downturn in decades.

How did this situation come about?

A collusive collective-bargaining system for local government unions is the main reason local government salaries are so exorbitant. State unions never were able to wangle the same system, so state-employee compensation generally hasn't reached the stratospheric level of local governments in Clark and Washoe.

NRS 288 requires local governments to negotiate in over 20 contract areas with employee unions, giving these unions incredible leverage. Government employee unions are usually the most powerful special interest in local elections, which allows these labor unions to often literally select the individuals they negotiate "against" — even though those elected officials are supposed to represent taxpayers.

When times are good, there is enormous pressure to increase salary and benefits, because the money is available, even if it should be saved or returned to taxpayers. When times are bad, there is enormous pressure not to "cut" the unsustainable wage increases that are usually locked in by contract.

In the private sector, a company can go out of business if its union pushes for unsustainably high salaries. This isn't the case in government, because governments can force taxpayers to pay more. Combined with the disproportionate impact government-employee unions have on local elections, it's easy to see why local government salaries have skyrocketed and remain inflated.

When the City of North Las Vegas flirts with bankruptcy or considers charging for access to a park or when the fiscal outlook for Las Vegas turns negative, citizens need to remember that there are plenty of tax dollars being taken from them and spent in government. Instead of paying for core services or being returned to taxpayers, however, that money is funding lavish salaries.

Thanks to TransparentNevada, you can now learn all about it.

Victor Joecks is communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit This article first appeared in the May 2012 edition of Nevada Business.


blog comments powered by Disqus