|Let there be taxes!|
As we prepare to take this blog to a larger and more regional SGV perspective later this spring, it is gratifying to know that we can attract an audience from out there beyond the Michillinda Curtain. Many of Sierra Madre's problems are hardly unique, and our experiences here can resonate with other communities as well. Small city governmental dysfunction is in no way limited to us, and people need to know that. We think it could be quite a lively regional niche as well. Certainly here in tiny Sierra Madre we have been blessed with an ideal metaphor for the problems many face.
I digress. The topic we dealt with last Thursday was the issue of health benefit costs being given to City of Sierra Madre employees. What the people at Transparent California discovered was that these benefit packages, given to our city's employee unions as part of certain negotiated labor agreements, are among the most highly priced in the State of California.
This is something that has shocked many people here in Sierra Madre. Especially when you consider that we are being asked to vote ourselves a 25% utility tax increase in April, ostensibly to fund a city government that claims it has shed all of its unnecessarily expenses. We now know that this is not the case.
Elaine Aguilar did respond to Transparent California. Not in a very public sort of way, however. Rather her response was tacked on at the end of her most recent City Manager Report, which is only available on the City's somewhat obscure website.
This report is something that she puts together to edify the members of our City Council. It can also be found by we the people, however. You just need to know where to look.
Here is what she had to say:
Total Compensation Comparison: Historically, the Sierra Madre City Council has made policy decisions to keep City of Sierra Madre employee salaries at below market-rate levels, while providing a competitive benefit package. Overall this has kept Sierra Madre's employee related expenses down in two ways:
- First, for most employees, Sierra Madre's "total compensation" (salary plus benefits) remains the lowest or the second lowest, as compared to the same position in neighboring cities.
- Secondly, this approach results in reducing the City's current and future CalPERS retirement liability.
Additionally, as the case with the last two department head and the Police Captain hires, the medical benefits enabled the City to recruit experienced managers all the while keeping the City's OPEB (other post employment benefits) liabilities down since these employees will not qualify for retiree benefits.
One question that occurred to me here is if these medical benefit packages are so economically down-market and petite, how is it they can attract "experienced managers?" Experienced managers presumably being people who can recognize a crap health care package when they see one. As talent bait goes, weak health benefits are something few people would find attractive.
Elaine continues in a moment. Please note that this is where her somewhat opaque arguments unravel in an apples versus oranges kind of way.
However … even with the competitive benefit packages, the City of Sierra Madre ranks either last or second to last in total compensation as compared to the five neighboring agencies.
The data utilized in this report was downloaded from TransparentCalifornia.com for the 2012 calendar year, which only reports the total cost per employee. Based on the data downloaded from TransparentCalifornia.com, the Sierra Madre (sic) had the average lowest cost per employee in 2012.
Elaine's efforts to quell any possible concern over her employee contract negotiating expertise goes on for a little while longer. She then provides several pages of information cherry picked from the Transparent California website. She asserts that these back up her claim that everything is just fine, and you people should now just move on.
If you wish to read Elaine's entire exegesis, you can do so by clicking here, then clicking on the "City Manager's Report to City Council for February 28, 2014," and then finally scrolling down 8 pages until you get to what I cited above. Note that the report is initially marked as being only 6 pages. The stuff we're talking about today comes after that.
However, should you decide to do so you won't find any answers to the questions we raised here on The Tattler last Thursday. Such as how it is that a fairly recently hired (and certainly not an "experienced manager") Administrative Assistant was paid $35,000 in 2012, yet had a health care plan worth $33,500. An amount that even surpasses the $31,000 in health benefits paid to the City Manager of Beverly Hills, the owner of the previous TCC record for overly generous taxpayer funded health benefits.
I forwarded Elaine's City Manager Report to Robert Fellner. Robert is the Project Manager at Transparent California that first broke the news about Sierra Madre's current penchant for paying outlandishly large health benefits to just about anyone who walks through our City Hall doors. Experienced manager or not. Here are the points he makes.
- (Elaine Aguilar) uses the terms “employee compensation” and “total cost per employee” interchangeably, which is incorrect.
- We only report cash employees received and the cost of their retirement contributions and medical insurance provided by agency.
- We do not report the total cost – which would include things like disability, workman’s comp insurance, employee assistance programs, state unemployment insurance, Medicare payments, etc.
- But way worse than that is her including all the part time and seasonal workers in her “total cost per employee” figure of 36k. It’s incredibly misleading, at best.
It is not surprising that Elaine's standard issue malarkey didn't impress an analyst skilled in the art of ferreting out the financial malfeasance of small time government agencies like our City Hall. What is concerning is that she thought it wouldn't be found out and questioned.
Welcome to Sierra Madre. Home of the highest utility taxes and most expensive employee health care benefits in the entire state of California. It is no coincidence.
Preserve Mater Dolorosa Monastery Stop the Housing Project News
(Mod: We received the latest newsletter from the Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project. There is some important information here, and we thought it should be posted here it in its entirety so that you can check it out.)
Dear Supporters: The Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project was formed for the sole purpose of preserving the beautiful open space that is currently a part of the Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center. Our position has been that the last thing Sierra Madre needs is another unwanted housing project, which is why we are currently in discussions with Mater Dolorosa to provide an alternative for them.
As you know, City Council elections will be held on April 8th in which you will be choosing three candidates to represent our treasured city. This could be one of the most important elections in a long time as many significant issues are facing our city today. Among these issues, Sierra Madre residents will have to decide whether to preserve the charm and character that makes Sierra Madre unique or whether we want to over-develop our city and basically emulate the same trend that is occurring in Arcadia and elsewhere. A housing project at Mater Dolorosa will open the floodgates to the transformation of the city we love.
That being said, there are many issues other than the development of a housing project at Mater Dolorosa that will affect Sierra Madre residents. While we don’t feel it is appropriate to endorse any particular candidate, we do feel an obligation to let our supporters know that one of the candidates for city council, Denise Delmar, is on our Steering Committee and has given her time and energy towards the particular issue that is the reason for the creation of our coalition – and that is preserving the last large open space in Sierra Madre and preventing a housing project at Mater Dolorosa. Denise has been one of the key leaders of this effort. If you wish to support Denise or request a sign, you can do so at her website at www.ElectDelmar.com.
We intend to solicit each of the other candidates' views as well about preserving the open space at Mater Dolorosa and publicize those views on our website before the election. We also encourage you to explore with all the candidates any other issues that are important to you as you decide which candidates to vote for on April 8th.
Steering Committee - Coalition to Preserve Mater Dolorosa and Stop the Housing Project