As a member of the Piedmont City Council since 2008, I have tried to be a voice of reason and to act in the best interests of our entire community. Recently, we have witnessed a spirited discussion about whether the Municipal Services Tax (Measure Y) should be renewed. I am concerned that the "big picture" (the City's fiscal health) has been lost in the heat of the moment. Vocally opposing Measure Y are Ryan Gilbert and Tim Rood, both of whom I ran against in 2008 and 2012, respectively, in two of the most hotly contested races in recent Piedmont history. From those two campaigns, I know we share an interest in strengthening the City's financial condition. The most fiscally responsible means to that end is to pass Measure Y. Here are some important facts that I hope will be useful in making an informed choice.
The City’s successful negotiations with labor unions resulted in recently executed contracts without costly litigation or disruptive labor strikes. Negotiations with the firefighters' union were difficult and protracted. They took over one year, went to impasse, and a state mediator was brought in because the City held firm in its demand for concessions. Labor contracts cannot be changed overnight or unilaterally. They must be negotiated within legal constraints of confidentiality and good faith bargaining, which was done.
The City froze employee salaries for the 4th straight year, increased employees' contributions to pensions, and instituted a two-tier system where new hires receive reduced pension benefits. As the Council begins negotiations for the next round of labor contracts, we will continue to work hard to reduce pension and benefit costs.
The City Council has made fiscally responsible decisions that saved the City hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Council voted to eliminate two positions which saved over $400,000 per year. It voted to share the City’s fire chief with the City of Albany for a savings of approximately $140,000 per year. It approved contracts with the City Clerk and Public Works Director that saved $60,000. It established a 5 year fiscal plan and created a Budget Advisory Committee which recommended renewal of the parcel tax. The City took over management of the pool and realized a surplus of over $31,000 in 2011-12. If sales of passes continue on the same trajectory, the City will break even or realize a modest surplus in 2012-13.
Renewal of the parcel tax will generate approximately $1.63 million per year or over$6.5 million over 4 years. These funds pay for our police, fire, and paramedic services, maintenance of streets, sidewalks, parks, playgrounds, and public buildings. The revenue supports other services that make Piedmont safer, including the City's new Email Alert System, crossing guards for our school children, traffic studies, and public education on crime prevention and disaster preparation.
The revenues from the parcel tax will stave off painful cuts. This is not a "scare tactic." It is arithmetic. The City cannot sustain the loss of $6.5 million in revenue over 4 years without cuts. If Measure Y fails, cuts could come from our facilities (pool, civic buildings) and equipment (ambulance, fire trucks) replacement funds which the Municipal Tax Review Committee strongly recommended be funded. Maintenance of public spaces may be reduced and library services eliminated. If you think the tenor of our public dialogue has deteriorated over Measure Y, imagine the rancor that will occur when citizens are pitted against each other to save their favorite service or program.
Engaging in public discourse on the City's spending priorities is healthy for our community, but denying it an essential source of revenue is not. I urge you to vote “yes” on Measure Y.
Vice Mayor (Title used for identification purposes only)