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You Said It: Budget, Salaries and Benefits for City Workers, Council Members

Amid budget difficulties, opinions abound about pay, benefits for everyone associated with Pinole City Hall.

The current fiscal condition of Pinole city government lately has become a lightning rod for public opinion. In public meetings, in casual talk on the street and in the Pinole Patch comment stream, points of view alternatively collide, comingle or congeal into debating points.

As a point of illustration, this recent remark appeared in our comment stream from reader Chris Wimmer:

"Where are the salary cuts for the city manager and asst city manager? Cut their salaries in half. Save two WORKERS who we as taxpayers SEE everyday. Fire and police. Sorry folks. You can't hide no more. Give it up. Have you no shame. Let workers go and continue to collect big salaries?"

A seemingly perfect storm is forming, with the pending expiration of the utility users tax, stalled negotiations with public safety unions and the looming November city council election for two of the five seats.

We'd like to move this conversation forward. First, we'd like to add some context:

  • In May 2011, the city manager, assistant city manager and city clerk cut in compensation.
  • Last July, city and firefighter negotiations failed, leading to the council's on firefighters.
  • Last July the council for police seargants, officers and dispatchers after negotiations stalled.
  • In March 2011, student and Economic Development and Housing Advisory Committee member that city council members should take pay cuts or surrender city-paid health benefits as a gesture of self sacrifice.
  • At Tuesday's city council budget workshop Councilman Phil Green raised the idea of reducing the number of council members from five to three as a cost-cutting measure.
  • Also at Tuesday's meeting Councilwoman Debbie Long suggested possibly shifting some city department heads to 36-hour work weeks.

This is not the entire representation of the ideas floating around, but they are among the primary ones that seem to be on the minds of elected officials and the public at large.

Some people say that the only plausible way out of the situation is to make deep cuts, all around, to employee salaries and pensions, including police and fire personnel. We've also heard that employees should be fired, then re-hired at lower compensation levels so that Pinole can remain an independent, "full-service" city. Still others say that city hall already has cut not only to the bone, but to the marrow.

What do you  think? Post your comments below.

Allen Dorsey June 02, 2012 at 06:23 AM
401k continued: by Hilery Z. Simpson, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics “Those private industry employees who are offered a defined contribution plan, however, do not always choose to enroll in the plan. If you did enroll, you are among the 43 percent of the private industry workforce who participate7 in a defined contribution plan. Various factors influence whether a person participates in contributory retirement plans. For example, workers in the top 10 percent of the earnings range are more likely to participate than most workers earning less. Similarly, full-time employees are more likely to participate than part-time workers. Other factors, such as occupation, industry, or the size of the establishment, can also play a role. As these data show, if you have access to a defined contribution plan--and participate--you are among a select group.”
Allen Dorsey June 02, 2012 at 06:23 AM
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s data in “Survey of Income and Program Participation of 2006”, participants in defined contribution 401k, 403b, profit sharing, ESOP and money purchase plans, “The average account balance for all ages is $48,311. The average account balance for individuals age 55-64 is $70,461.” These account balances are unrealistic and inadequate for retirement funds. Even retiring at age 64 it wouldn’t be enough to survive until Social Security kicks in. This is 2012, prices are ridiculous and continuing to rise, think about it. Both defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans invest retirement funds. Investments are too risky with today’s volatile economy. Pensions need to be secure for all working Americans, both private sector and public sector.
Giorgio C. June 02, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Yes, Bobby, that is sharing the pain. I was simply responding to RR's comment. As a public (state) employee, I too have shared the pain over the past few years. And before that, my wage was on the decline, even when others were getting raises and bonuses, so some of us were already feeling the pinch before the big crash. So how much more do we have to share? The governor wants me to take a 5% pay cut now in addition to everything else we have given. Because I feel fortunate to still have a job, I will accept this 5% pay cut. But my union says "No way!" My union says this is the voice of the majority of the membership. But that is not entirely true. My union was not following the requirements of the California Corporations Code which includes mechanisms for a democratic process. When I challenged them on this, they suspended me and expelled another member. Almost 2/3 of the union have opted out as "Fair Share" because they did not know how to fix the problem. They gave up because no one explained their rights to them. My union will now be responding to the allegations in front of the Public Employment Relations Board, and maybe even the Superior Court after that. The point being we need to have all of the cards on the table, all of the facts for all taxpayers to see, and an avenue for all employees to speak up and be heard. Then we can make decisions that are fair. By the way, I support unions. Honest ones. Wall St. has their own union.
SalthePlumber June 02, 2012 at 02:22 PM
When times are good and the Economy is booming, the average Citizen doesnt pay close attention to Government business and Emplyee Contracts. Now with our Mini-Depression and painful climb out, there is a lot to examine and a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking. Perhaps we should remember to ask our incumbent politicians facing re-election, "Who approved these Contracts and Why?" On Public Safety, its easy, The City of Pinole was merely trying to keep up with all of the other Public Safety Agencies in the Bay Area. Pinole has consistently ranked in the lowest tiers of Pay/Benefits. My suggestion is to go to a County-Wide First Responder System. It will eliminate an awful lot of duplication, make staffing easier and unify the Pay/Benefits under a County-Wide Contract. It will also eliminate the endless BS Politics in Pinole. You want "Local Control", you gotta pay for it, and its expensive and politically cumbersome. Get Public Safety costs off the table and work on the rest...
Redrock June 02, 2012 at 04:15 PM
The ONLY answer to the taxpayer funded “pension problem” is to eliminate pensions entirely. It doesn’t matter to me whether one chooses to enroll in a 401K or any other investment plan, what people do with their earned income is their own business. @Al, whether you want to split hairs and say the financial problem in Pinole is a city issue, that’s fine… but who is pays for Pinole police, fire and city administrator’s life long pension after retirement? The taxpayers. I’ll pay the wages for police and fire, but not fund their pensions after retirement. Police and Fire are always preparing for a crisis- so let them prepare for their own financial security [like everyone else] after they retire.
Giorgio C. June 02, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Public Safety should be on the table like everything else. Just look at how our schools are treated. Same scenario. Counties and cities that can't or will not pay the higher compensation package will have problems with recruitment and retention. As a taxpayer with a decreasing wage and increasing costs, I pay what I can afford. I cannot afford to pay the same as some other folks in higher income areas. By monitoring indicators of quality, we know when we truly are not paying enough, that we have gone too far. I would look at the number of applicants per position and the turnover. If there is high turnover, I then look to see how this impacts my service. If the high turnover results in a police force with no loyalty or bond with the community, then I might decide I need to pay more. If we can't fill positions, then obviously I would know I have to pay more. If the force becomes staffed with inexperienced officers, to the point of becoming a safety and legal liability, then I know I need to pay more. Once you'v shown what the ill-effects are of offering the lowest tiers of pay and benefits, then you will have the ear of the people who will demand cost efficiencies that will allow you to pay the amount of compensation necessary to correct those ill-effects. What are the quality indicators or metric that we should use to assess the consequences of the pay disparity you have shared with us?
CW June 02, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Bullseye!
SalthePlumber June 02, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Hey Rocks, you have a very limited understanding of retirement/pensions and how they work. When somone retires from their employer, it is the same as a CONTRACT. You can only change the terms of a Retirees benefits with the agreement of the Retirees themselves. You can change terms for those still working, with Collective Bargaining. If the Public Employees have PERS pensions (Public Employees Retirement System), then you have a sytem that has to be addressed at the State level. What the State and Local Governments have to look at is balanced funding of Pension Obligations. Too much has been based on Boom and Bust cycles that are now wildly unpredictable. Yes, its a mess! Lets get the right people to sort things out and move on.You dont throw the baby out with the Bath water. You cant just "do away" with pensions...
SalthePlumber June 02, 2012 at 08:53 PM
GC Pinole went through this for many years. The Police Dept was a holding tank for recruits looking to get experience before moving on to more lucrative positions elsewhere. As long as there are differing pay scales within Contra Costa County, you will see movement. Everyone is entitled to do better. If we went with more of a County based Police force, all pay and benefit disparities go away. By eliminating duplicative Staff, Chiefs, programs, etc, there should be room for cost savings. Look around. If you dont have a casino or a major industry/taxpayer in your city limits, you might as well be a cork bobbing on the sea on a windy day. Maybe Hercules is ready. Crockett, Rodeo, El Sobrante are all County. Nobody is talking about consolidation. We should explore it. Or we can wait for the next Boom and that will lead to the same Rut we are in now...
Redrock June 02, 2012 at 11:05 PM
The only ones with a “limited understanding” are the life long pensioners- who remain unwilling to compromise on their tax payer funded, retirement gold mine. I’ll pay their annual wage-- but not their pension.
Redrock June 02, 2012 at 11:07 PM
@Sal.. read what I said... above: Zoomer-- I think that is a great idea. If we could roll back ONLY 1% in monthly [pension] income on all public retirees- it would generate TENS of MILLIONS. You wouldn’t even have to adjust insurance benefits, just reduce their take home pay by 1%. However, the legality outweighs the practicality, and it wouldn’t be possible. That would be breach of contract and about a dozen other infractions, and would flood the California courts with litigation unimaginable. Ironically, the private citizen who retires @ 65 and beyond, has no guarantee if their Federal benefits such as SSN and Medicare will at sometime be significantly reduced. All that could occur in the next 4 years. Even Obama made draconian concessions in his original budget by slashing SSN and Medicare payouts- of course he also asked for tax increases and all of us know that outcome. The only answer is to start with new hires and eliminate lifetime pension and benefits. Public employees will have to contribute to a 401K like everyone else. And when they retire, they’ll have to rely on SSN and Medicare like everyone else. Fair is fair, no more free rides.
Dick Jones June 03, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Providing employee benefits through any retirement plan is a complex policy decision. A comparative analysis should consider the goals the employer is attempting to reach, the level of benefits that are desired, and provide an understanding of the risks inherent in various pension plan designs, and who should bear them. I think it is important to keep in mind when one is considering CalPers pensions that roughly two-thirds of the funding for CalPERS comes from investment income. Less than a quarter from taxpayers. And employees pay as well - in the case of public safety, up to 9% of their salary. It is also important to note that abandoning pension fattens corporate bottom lines, not workers' retirement. California's economy benefits from pension fund investment. Approximately $35 billion is pumped into the state's economy by pension investment -- $7 of economic payback for every $1 of investment. And every dollar spent by a retiree produces $2 worth of economic activity. Privatizing retirement has left millions without any retirement security, while corporate salaries have skyrocketed. It's time every employee had the right to a secure pension ... public and private sector.
CW June 03, 2012 at 04:03 AM
thanks Dick.. Another person using a real name... and not throwing rocks, but tyring to bring some facts/reason to this whole debacle.
Giorgio C. June 03, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Are initial proposals of all contract negotiations being announced to the citizens so as to invite comment per the Sunshine laws? My union and employer did not always do a good job at this. When I inquired, hey told me no one really cared. Really? Personally, I wanted Joe (or Jane) Taxpayer (who are my employer) sitting next to me at the bargaining table so they could see what was going down. I want to see a paper trail of all contract negotiations for every public employee for at least the last 10 years posted on line. Some folks have a very selective memory when it comes to collective bargaining. Don't tell me how you have shared the pain, show me. For example of why such documentation is needed, at some time when things were good, the state told the employees that they did not have to contribute to their pension, that the state would pick up the cost. I am guessing this was in lieu of a COLA or whatever. I now hear that the state never kicked in the money that it promised to. Again, I should be able to see this on the website somewhere. Here is how the state displays contract information. I think they should post at least the last 10 years. Counties and cities should do the same. http://www.dpa.ca.gov/bargaining/contracts/index.htm
Redrock June 03, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Thanks Dick- There is one very important point you left out: The CalPers pensions are GUARANTEED, regardless of market performance. While the economy tanks, retirees will still be getting paid. This is the same system that bankrupted San Diego in the 90's, when the city council withdrew millions from their thriving investments to fund elaborate city works projects, all thinking they would be able to reimburse their portfolios because of the huge market gains. Well the bubble burst, millions lost, and yet CalPers is still issuing checks, to a privileged public class of retirees, whose jobs are no more important than mine or anyone else working in the private sector.
SalthePlumber June 03, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Sorry Zoomer, you lost me. I cant make heads or tails of what you are talking about. All pensions are subject to federal law. Its called ERISA. Google it and see what legal requirements are attached to pensions... By the Way, for everyone posting here, You cant Un-Ring the Bell. What has happened has happened. There is a need to change the future obligations of all pension plans, in light of the unregulated casino that Wall Street has become.
SalthePlumber June 03, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Good info, GC. If I remember correctly, during the Boom part of the Cycle, PERS told many participant Governments and Agencies that they did not have to pay for their Pension obligations, but didnt leave them off the hook for asking for those same funds at a later date. Many Local governments used that temporary windfall for all kinds of spending, and now that we are at the Bust part of the Cycle, PERS wants those deferred payments! The Cookie Jar is empty...
Allen Dorsey June 04, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Most full time city employees work a scheduled 40 hrs per week, times 52 weeks in a year, equals 2080 hrs per year. Overtime hourly rate kicks in after 40hrs per week per FLSA. Firefighters in Pinole work a scheduled 56 hrs per week, times 52 weeks per year, equals 2912 hrs per year. Overtime hourly rate kicks in after 52 hrs per week per FLSA. This allows the city to work firefighters more hours without incurring too much increased hourly costs to the taxpayer. An eight hour a day, or 40 hr per week, employee would have to work 8 hrs a day, 364 days in a year, to equal the same 2912 hrs, or the same amount of hours that our firefighters are regularly scheduled to work, excluding additional overtime. If anyone in private industry worked seven days a week for a year, I guarantee their wages would seem high too.
Allen Dorsey June 04, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Both Police Officers and Firefighters work a lot of overtime hours too because they are understaffed. They are understaffed the city decided to save the taxpayers money by understaffing and backfilling with overtime. An Administrative/Financial decision. Why? Since overtime is less expensive than hiring full time benefited employees. Hourly public employees earn more when they work more hours, just like working Americans in private industry, and public safety employees work more overtime than any employees I know of. Public employees pay taxes just like you and I, and they also pay the same four to five dollars per gallon for gas.
Allen Dorsey June 04, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Salary/benefit schedules posted in the Mecury News are known to be flawed. I’ve been at a city council meeting when Jeff Rubin was presenting numbers from the Mercury News, during one of his many attacks on our Fire Department and firefighters, the council questioned the accuracy of those numbers and staff showed that data was unreliable, misleading and inaccurate. Mr. Rubin has a friend, Tom Lochner, who is a reporter for the Contra Costa Times. The Times is Owned by the Bay Area News Group which also owns the Mercury News. Mr. Lochner has written most of the articles posted on the CCOP’s website, check it out. Online rebuttals to Mr. Rubin’s opinion article of May 28 were removed by the Times after only being posted a few hours, and after being reposted. Why? I offer those rebuttals herein my continued Rebuttal comments. (See Rebuttal)
Allen Dorsey June 04, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Rebuttal, (continued) By Vince Wells: Jeff, It is ironic that you are accusing me of threatening the citizens of the East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (ECCCFPD) of closing their stations and increasing insurance rates. I am the union president. I represent the employees that are subject to being laid off if Measure S fails. I am not a member of the Fire Board Jeff. The ballot statement itself says: East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Service Protection Measure To preserve existing emergency services, add paramedic services and prevent further layoffs of up to one half of existing firefighters and the closure of up to 3 additional fire stations, shall an ordinance be adopted to enact a parcel tax of $197 per year on each parcel of real property within the district, with an annual cost of living adjustment not to exceed 3%. These are not my words, it's on the ballot statement. It is in the board agenda from the May7, 2012!
Allen Dorsey June 04, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Rebuttal, (continued) By Vince Wells: Secondly, letters written by the Insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones, and the previous Insurance Commissioner, Congressmen Garamendi, both state that cuts to fire services at this level could lead to skyrocketing insurance prices. We saw it happen in Morgan Territory last year! As far as your comments about contract negotiations, you know that was a bold face lie. You are aware of the fact that we offered to pick up the entire employee cost immediately during contract negotiations. You have confirmed this several times.
Allen Dorsey June 04, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Rebuttal, (continued) By Vince Wells: You are tired of dividing the community of Pinole against the Police and Fire Department and now want to spread your handy work to East County and a broad? The true irony, is that you have successfully campaigned to cut your fire services (Pinoles) in half and now your try to make me seem like the bad guy! We fought hard and made concession after concession to keep the public safe against your lies and personal attacks. You have a reckless disregard for Public Safety. I have fought for adequate staffing and coverage in your City and all other jurisdictions represented by Local 1230. Nice Letter!
Allen Dorsey June 04, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Rebuttal, (continued) By Gil: @Jeff Rubin, Keep your ignorance out of East Contra Costa and focus on your ONE Fire Station Town! Instead of blaming Vince Wells for your City's Public Safety chaos, why don't you look at your City Manager and City Council? 1. The East Contra Costa Fire Board and Fire Chief are educating the public on the ramifications of Measure S failing. The District has conducted 22 Town Hall Meetings regarding the State of the District. Not Vince Wells. 2. Mr. Wells is not an Insurance Broker, but Former Insurance Commissioner, Congressman John Garamendi, and current Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones have realeased statements saying homeowners insurance rates could be dramatically impacted should the Measure fail. 3. You said "Compromised Fire Service proved to be an empty threat". Really? Pinole closed one of its two Fire Stations!! What is that? Mr. Wells was right. 4. The professional Firefighters of Pinole have continued to make contract concessions. What you call threats, Jeff Rubin, the wise person calls instruction and education.
Allen Dorsey June 04, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Rebuttal, (continued) By Allen Dorsey: Mr. Rubin’s allegations of “threats” are entirely ridiculous! According to his criteria, after the May 29 Pinole budget workshop he will now accuse Pinole’s Police Chief, Fire Chief, Public Works Director, City Manager, Council Members and city staff of “threatening” Pinole Residents. When advising citizens of the consequences of lost revenue, the ones who know what those consequences are, should be able to tell the citizens without being accused of making “threats”. During the recall, Mr. Rubin refers to in his opinion piece, Pinole had two fire stations and two fire engines staffed, today Pinole has one fire station and one fire engine staffed with no administrative or support personnel. During the May 29 meting, the Fire Chief stated that nine positions have been lost in the department. What is Mr. Rubin’s idea of “compromised”? He needs to get his facts straight!
SalthePlumber June 04, 2012 at 02:10 AM
This is a discussion Forum. If nobody responded to your inane comments, you'd be put out about that too... "If you cant stand the heat, get out of the Kitchen". Ever hear that one? BTW, the Comments here are pretty tame...
CW June 04, 2012 at 04:06 AM
I wonder how a resident... any resident.. on either side of the position.... will react when they have a medical emergency in their home.. needing assistance ASAP... and the ONE piece of apparatus is on the freeway servicing the needs of an auto accident... How will that feel..... I for one do NOT want to find out...
Bobby June 04, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Great reply John, just another fact, Pinole cops are paying 12.5%, since the city swindled an extra 3.5% they are supposed to pay, and forced it onto the common cop and firefighter, the majority of cities around Pinole are paying 9%, not 12.5%, just another fact for everyone complaining.
Raul Ramero June 04, 2012 at 05:54 AM
@ x You state “Pinole's median income is about $73,500. The top 40 employees make double that. Something is wrong”. You need to take a look at the salary schedule on the city website. You will find your numbers are skewed. You must be looking at total compensation including benefits, overtime etc. for most of these 40 employees. Looking at these 40 listed most are Police and Fire. So I took the bottom step Police Officer/Firefighter and top step Police Sergeant/Fire Captain found the median and hear are those results: http://www.ci.pinole.ca.us/personnel/docs/pinole_salary_schedule.pdf Police Officer =$5,846/mo or $70,152/year before taxes Firefighter= $5,199/mo or $62,388/year before taxes Police Sergeant = $8,323/mo or $99,876/year before taxes Fire Captain = $8,028/mo or $96,336/year before taxes The rough averages, not rank by rank are: Police =$7,084.50/mo or $85,014/year before taxes Fire = $6,613.50/mo or $79,362/year before taxes This is not even close to double!
Redrock June 05, 2012 at 01:11 AM
@Dick This is what happens when "Approximately $35 billion is pumped into the state's economy by pension investment -- $7 of economic payback for every $1 of investment." YOUR WORDS... not mine. When the economy tanks and the money isn't there, then we raise taxes to fill the guaranteed pensions. Just Like Poilce and Fire.. Measure K and the like is another sham to shelter life long city and state funded pensions at the expense of the taxpayer! Get a clue everyone! How much more are you willing to pay.. without some sort of reform? "... 100% of the tax increases earmarked for education will go not towards school improvements, teacher salaries, or academic materials, but to cover the shortfalls in the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. According to Bloomberg, all that money will be used for teacher pensions and there are signs that if voters found out about it, they might be less likely to vote to pass the measure come November..." The full article: http://www.educationnews.org/education-policy-and-politics/ca-voters-face-tough-choice-tax-increases-or-ed-cuts/

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