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Letter: Measure Y and Budget Realities

Piedmont resident Kathleen Quenneville writes that uncontrolled benefits spending is a major risk to the city's valued public services.

Editor:

 With respect to Vice Mayor Fujioka's recent opinion piece on Measure Y, I'd suggest that threatening yet again the ambulance service brings to mind Ronald Reagan's famous comment in his debate with Jimmy Carter: "There you go again." Any Council member who says the ambulance service is on the chopping block is basically telling the voters that the service isn't important enough to be among the top 93% of the City's priorities. So in the final days of this contentious election, let's try to keep a grip on the reality of budget making.

I honor Vice Mayor Fujioka's stated commitment to make necessary changes, but the evidence of real progress is minimal 14 months after MTRC delivered its final report. Short term agreements have been reached with some City employees, but when the contracts were brought to the Council, no savings were projected. The two-tier pension system will have no significant effect for maybe a decade, while our pension liability grows unchecked. The Council chose to proceed with  the MTRC report's sewer tax surcharge and parcel tax recommendations, and not the recommendations on controlling spending.  Although the MTRC endorsed the sewer tax surcharge, the voters disagreed.  We'll see on November 6 what they think about renewing the parcel tax without significant progress on reining in spending.

A core issue is benefits whose costs have been growing at double digit rates for the last ten years. Today for every $10,000 of salary we pay a public safety employee, we incur at least $6,600 in benefit costs.  For a public works employee, every $10,000 in salary can mean $8,000 in benefits. And these costs keep on growing as does our future liability, so that one day we may see benefit costs greater than salaries. These are not only staggering numbers, but they are double the size of anything that is considered reasonable in other cities.

Some may think that those opposing Measure Y don't care about Piedmont. On the contrary, it is because we love this town that we volunteered to help with City governance. And our involvement has caused us to conclude that the only way to get significant movement on this problem is to turn off the spigot until the problem is addressed, because uncontrolled benefits spending is a major risk to our valued public services. It doesn't mean the City will lose the parcel tax forever, or even for 4 years. With meaningful Council initiative on the spending problem, maybe it only means for one year, which the City can easily weather with reserves.  A "no" vote on Measure Y supports Piedmont's long-term financial health by sending the Council a message that stopgap fixes are unacceptable.

Kathleen Quenneville
Piedmont

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Mike Henn November 02, 2012 at 06:37 PM
While I largely agree with the writer's concern that the Council has not fully committed to doing all it could to curb employee wage and benefits costs, I believe the charge that the pension costs are twice what is considered reasonable in other cities is not correct. The writer may not know that wages and benefits for cities are set following detailed prevailing wage surveys of hopefully similar cities. It is not plausible that Piedmont would pay benefits twice what the other cities in the survey are paying. As I have stated in other posts, the employee overpayment problem is Statewide. Piedmont's experience is just an example of what happens when has happened in Sacramento with the domination of the legislature by the public employee unions. I am reluctantly supporting Measure Y because I particularly appreciate the non-essential services that make Piedmont a special place to live. Other commenters have pointed out from surveys of comparable cities where Piedmont ranks in terms of generosity of benefits, and it is high but not at the top. Passage of Prop 32 which is being blasted by the unions in endless TV ads could help solve the basic problem.

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