In the Bay Area's most comprehensive effort to provide the public with information on how much local government spends on public employee salaries and benefits, details on more than $17 billion spent by 271 local governments in the greater Bay Area in 2011 are now available online.

The data shows the cost of salaries, medical insurance and retirement benefits and other costs of employing more than 185,000 workers at counties, cities, special districts and school systems that released the information under the state public records act to the Bay Area News Group.

To view the database and search for salaries by agency, department or individual, go to www.contracostatimes.com/salaries or www.insidebayarea.com/salaries.

San Francisco Bay Area 2011

Since 2009, the Bay Area News Group has published details on nearly $136 billion spent on employee public sector workers across the state in the first database of its kind in California and one of the largest repositories of government pay information in the nation.

Data will include employee names, job titles, base salary, overtime and other cash compensation plus the government's cost of medical insurances, pension contributions, deferred compensation plans and other employment costs, such as disability and workers' compensation insurances.

The California Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 2007 decision that detailed employment costs, including employee names, are public record. That case began when the Contra Costa Times sued Oakland in 2005 after the city claimed government salary information was private. The data posted comes from government agencies in the nine Bay Area counties and Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Joaquin counties.

In all, this newspaper filed public records requests with 573 government entities in the Bay Area. In addition to the 271 data sets now available, information was received from 63 other agencies that will be released later once it is formatted for publication. Another 238 requests remain pending in the region.

Not all agencies would release compensation in an electronic format, such as San Ramon in Contra Costa County. Other entities, including Walnut Creek and the Washington Health Care District in Fremont refused to provide data on individual employee medical insurance costs. At a few agencies, such as San Francisco, officials claimed that antiquated payroll systems could not produce data showing the complete cost of employment.

The database will be updated with more government information throughout the year.

Officials in Oakland have said they will release data by Friday. BART secretary Kenneth Duran said the transit agency will also release 2011 data by Friday.

Check the database for updates June 18.

Contact Thomas Peele at tpeele@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/thomas_peele. Follow tweets about the compensation data at Twitter.com/publicsalaries.