.

Letter: 'Chicken Little' View of Measure Y

Piedmont resident Steve Weiner writes that the city should rein in employee benefit costs before voters approve an extension of the parcel tax.

Editor:

The proponents of Measure Y have adopted the “Chicken Little” strategy: the sky will fall if Piedmonters decline to spend an additional $1,800 over the next four years for a tax, intended to be temporary, that some now wish to treat as permanent. Yet, curiously enough, supporters of Measure Y can’t specify a single vital service (police, fire, paramedic, streets, sewers) that would be cut if Measure Y is defeated.

The reason? It is simply that our parcel tax dollars are not spent on vital services. They are being devoted to an out of control and unsustainable rise in city employee and health care costs. Both the Municipal Tax Review Committee and the Budget Advisory Committee (both appointed by the City Council) have expressed alarm about the resulting dangers to the future of our city. Yet, the City Council has failed to provide a plan that will reduce these constantly escalating costs that now constitute a $40,000,000 unfunded liability ($10,000 per household) for Piedmont taxpayers. In response, the Council says “trust us” when they have taken no action to warrant that trust.

Current contracts with city employees expire either in December of this year or July of next year. Thus, the Council has an immediate opportunity, in negotiating new contracts, to demonstrate that they can rein in employee benefit costs by insisting upon substantially larger employee contributions. The wise course of action is to defeat Measure Y and then hold the Council to its promise of greater fiscal responsibility in the future.

Lincoln famously said, “You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Let’s prove Lincoln right by voting no on Measure Y. For more information, visit www.NoOnMeasureY.com.

Steve Weiner
Piedmont

Mike Henn November 01, 2012 at 04:13 AM
Yes, employee Piedmont employees' salaries and benefits are too high and there is a huge unfunded liability for future pensions. But due to the inviolate nature of contract law, undoing these labor contracts is close to impossible for existing employees, and for those now retired. But this is a statewide problem that has put Vallejo, San Bernardino, Stockton and Mammoth Lakes into bankruptcy, and left dozens of other cities in serious distress. I believe that Piedmont's employees salaries and benefits are set after prevailing wage surveys have been conducted. I personally was involved with such surveys with other jurisdictions for several decades. I haven't done the research, but I would guess that Piedmont's employees are not significantly out of line relative to the other cities used in the prevailing wage surveys. In spite of its chronically underfunded local governments since Prop 13, California's employees are paid higher on average than any other state in the nation. That is the problem, not something unique to Piedmont. I do hope those opposed to Measure Y also vote for Prop 32. The stranglehold on Sacramento by public employees unions needs to be broken. Personally, I do not want to lose the non-essential services that make Piedmont special. I like landscaped islands, prompt fixing of potholes, beautiful street trees, and recreational programs. It is in areas like that, where the cuts will occur if Measure Y does not pass.
Tim Rood November 01, 2012 at 04:34 AM
According to Council member Keating, a salary comparison of the following cities - Brentwood, Mountain View, Livermore, Pleasant Hill, Hillsborough, Alameda, Corte Madera, Benicia, Foster City, Mill Valley, San Rafael, Sausalito and Emeryville – was prepared for City Council in 2006. Piedmont management and public safety salaries ranked between 9th and 11th on the list of 14. This was explained to Council as a mix of similar-sized cities and cities within Alameda County, compiled through negotiations with the bargaining units. Population and service levels vary widely. Historically, Piedmont has tried to maintain salaries 5% below the median of the 2006 list. By contrast, the MTRC's 2011 salary comparison of the following cities – Hillsborough, Larkspur, Los Altos Hills, Mill Valley, Moraga, Orinda, San Marino, Sausalito, and Tiburon – found that the Piedmont positions ranked 4th from the top on the list of 10. The MTRC list consists of 10 cities with an average population of 10,000 and similar demographics to Piedmont.
Mike Henn November 01, 2012 at 05:08 AM
Thanks Tim, it looks like Piedmont's salaries are not too out of line in either listing. 4th out of 10 in similar small cities located fairly widely, and 9th to 11th out of 14 in the study the city actually used. Picking the cities for a prevailing wage study is more of an art than a science. When I was with Lafayette, I could see manipulation of the cities on the list to be sure the well-paying ones were represented. But I think my point remains valid. Piedmont salaries are not significantly out of line relative to the other cities used in the study. The problem is they are all too high relative to the financial strength of cities in the post-Prop 13 era. Public employees unions domination of CALPERS and the legislature sets the benchmarks that others then follow. A real hawk on this subject is Dan Borenstein, columnist for the Bay Area News Group. He's easy to find online, and lays it out well. Also Dan Walters hits on it from time to time.
garrett Keating November 01, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Mike, I think you are right that salaries are too high but it seems to me that pensions are the real problem - those salaries essentially continue on into retirement and cities are not collecting enough revenue to pay them . For Piedmont, 40 of the city's 90 employees are projected to retire in the next 5 - 10 years and Piedmont is facing a $40M unfunded liability to pay those pensions. What would you have Piedmont do - cut salaries and pensions or raise taxes?
Mallory Hill November 01, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Cut pensions and salaries. Private sector jobs don't pay as well and they do not have these overly generous pension benefits.
Mike Henn November 02, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Garrett, it is my understanding that employees who get hired at some pension ratio like 3% at 55, or whatever, cannot legally have their pensions lowered. It is just the new hires that can have their pensions reduced. I would like to be wrong on that. I doubt that it is politically feasible to cut salaries but possible to hold the line on increases. I think it is possible to have existing employees pay a much greater share of their pension costs. San Jose is doing that but I read that the employees will or have sued. In a sense that results in a pay cut. Each cities personnel rules set how salaries are determined. I tend to speak generally because the problem is so widespread. I can support a continuance of the Measure Y tax rate for the reasons cited above but probably not a further increase. Actually the city taxes pale compared to the school taxes.

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »