Friday, June 20, 2014

Robert Fellner: Fire District Board Passes Tax Increase to Sustain $263,000 Median Annual Compensation

Cha-ching!
Mod: The question that needs to be asked today is whether or not local government now exists mainly to take care of itself and those who work for it. Here in Sierra Madre the answer to that question would seem to be yes, it does. Robert Fellner, writing here for the California Policy Center, is one of the main researchers behind the Transparent California site. A resource that received over 3 million hits in the first 4 months of its existence. It was Fellner who discovered that Sierra Madre, at an incredible $36,000 per year, has perhaps the most expensive individual public employee health care plan in all of California. With more significantly outrageous health plan costs right behind it. This became an issue that contributed greatly to the defeat of Measure UUT when we revealed it here last April (link). But Sierra Madre is hardly alone in the excessive city employee compensation game. Here Robert writes about an equally outrageous situation in another part of our state, and a courageous individual named Bill Prather who fought against it.

Fire District Board Passes Tax Increase to Sustain $263,000 Median Annual Compensation (link): The Rodeo-Hercules Fire District board just announced that a new tax increase, known as a benefit assessment, has passed, amidst criticism deriding the measure as unlawful. The District has a long history of budgetary woes, coupled with lavish $263k median compensation packages, amidst a union-backed board known for its aggressive tactics to fight any efforts that would rein in spending.

The traditional mechanism special districts use to raise taxes are known as a special parcel tax, which require a two-thirds majority to pass. Benefits assessments, by contrast, merely require a simple majority. However, they are only permitted to be levied for a “special benefit” that is defined as a “particular benefit to land and buildings, not a general benefit to the public…“

The use of a benefit assessment for fire protection, which is the definition of a general benefit, has received harsh criticism. Board member Bill Prather, the sole opposing vote against the tax, declared the action a “scam” and the Contra Costa Taxpayers Alliance decried the tax increase as “unconstitutional.”

The District has a history of employing legally and ethically questionable tactics to combat efforts that would force a reduction in spending. In early 2009, District Chief Gary Boyles found himself under attack from a union-backed board that had no tolerance for his cost-cutting ideas. As the Contra Costa Times reported, “Boyles had angered the union by advocating a fitness test as a prerequisite to sending firefighters on out-of-area wildland fire strike teams, a cherished source of overtime.”

After the union successfully forced Boyles out in June 2009 they turned their sights to Prather, another board director willing to stand up to the unions. Prather, a former Fire Captain himself, drew the board’s ire for endorsing similar cost-saving measures as Boyles supported, which were viscerally opposed by the unions who saw them as a potential threat to their revenue streams.

The Contra Costa Times summarized their efforts as, “An almost two year, union-backed attempt by four board members and the district’s lawyer to force Prather out of office.” Prather would not go down quietly, however. He refused to vacate his seat on the board and filed a lawsuit against the District for their attempts to wrongfully compel him to exit. He would receive vindication in 2011, when his lawsuit was victorious and the Board had to offer an apology for their actions.

Today, Prather finds himself surrounded by Local 1230 union-backed board members Manly Moulton Jr. and Raemona Williams, both of whom are active duty firefighters themselves, each earning annual compensation packages in excess of $260,000 each. Union Local 1230 President Vincent Wells, also an active duty firefighter, praised the board’s actions in pursuing the tax increase, in which he announced that “We’re looking forward to the new revenue.” The proliferation of union-beholden firefighters amongst a Board ostensibly designed to provide objective oversight for a fire district is a clear conflict of interest – how strongly will they fight for the interests of the taxpayers, especially if doing so would harm the interests of their fellow union-members?

In an article by the Contra Costa Times documenting the District’s budgetary woes, Fire Chief Hanley also failed to mention employee compensation as a cause of the District’s continued financial hardships, citing state-mandated education initiatives and other negligible factors, instead. Despite having received $347,500 in compensation for overseeing a 15 person department that only received fire-related calls less than 7% of the time, neither Hanley, nor anyone else on the union-backed board, mentioned compensation as the source of the District’s continued budgetary problems. In 2013, Chief Hanley would see his compensation rise to $395,000, which was more than even the chief of the 1500 person Orange County Fire Authority made the previous year.

Speaking to the recent tax increase, board member Beth Bartke thanked the union for handing out information leaflets that advocated for the tax increase, while ignoring the District’s most significant budgetary expense – employee compensation, which is a massive 78.2% of the entire budget. In 2012, the median compensation package for a full time employee of the District was over $278,000. The addition of a few more employees saw that number drop to $263k in 2013, still nearly 300% of the combined household income for the Hercules area. These values do not factor in the volunteer firefighters, who receive less than $1,000 annually, despite performing similar duties as salaried employees.

Consistent with this theme, the District’s otherwise comprehensive website becomes woefully inadequate when producing employee compensation data. Clearly, Local 1230 and the district board members they support have a very strong interest in making sure the taxpayers of the Rodeo-Hercules area remain in the dark about how their tax dollars are being spent.

Unfortunately, the case of the Rodeo-Hercules is not an isolated occurrence. Public unions have long recognized that they can “rig the game” in their favor by controlling the key positions in government that control access to the spigot of tax dollars. There is simply too much money to be won to allow those advocating fiscal responsibility to stand in the way. Mr. Prather, and Fire Chief Boyles before him, are all too common stories of isolated individuals standing up to union interests only to find their efforts met by a relentless, organized, well-funded machine that is willing  to harass, intimidate, and in the case of Mr. Prather, act unlawfully to destroy any opposition to their primary goal – keep the money flowing.

Mod: Just so you know, we're hardly alone in the getting ripped off category. 

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

57 comments:

  1. Hard to believe that when we were kids government jobs were looked down upon as low paid positions for the unambitious. Now they're where people go to get rich Everyone likes fireman, but should they be making three times as much as everyone else?

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    1. Where did you grow up? Beverly Hills? Where I grew up (Sierra Madre) teachers,firemen,policemen and other careers in public service were sought after and highly regarded.

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    2. That certainly changed. In two of those categories anyway. And if what you say is true, why are so many of this city's employees from out of town?

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    3. 8:11, 7:58 may have been writing in a more general sense, because it is true that government jobs used to be middle of the road careers. Not anymore. They've become very cushy sinecures.

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    4. we've got our own scams - city staff billing over 200 hours of payroll to the Mt Wilson Trail Race for "pre event planning"

      ????

      certainly the crack reporters at the Mt View News will ask and get answers

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    5. while the public was sleeping we got reamed with outrageous pensions and higher salaries that ever imagined - ridiculous perks not afforded to the private sector unless you consider Wall Street

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  2. I dunno maybe the pay isn't that great? I know Arcadia for example pays better so does L.A. County.............

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    1. If the city announced all of their jobs were up for grabs the line of people applying would go on for blocks.

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    2. I'd probably be in that line
      Albeit I'd loose my UUT exemption.

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    3. Arcadia is much bigger than this little town of 11,000. That's not a valid comparison. And LA County isn't either.
      I agree with 8:46. You could easily know $50,000 off the city manager's haul and you'd get earnest applicants.

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    4. Can't beat Sierra Madre's bennies.

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  3. Recently I was in an airport. All food concessions add 1% to you bill for employee benefits.

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  4. Don't forget they get paid to sleep and have enough time off to have a part time job. Plus they retire at almost full pay.

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    1. We haven't had the first big fire of the season yet. We certainly will and you'll change your tune

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    2. Great. "You pay us a quarter of a million dollars a year or your house will burn down."
      Gets no better than that!

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    3. I don't know, but I've heard that firefighters do everything they can to jack up their hours that last year of service, which then makes them very rich indeed when they retire.

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    4. They will not "let" your house burn down and you will be singing their praises even when we loose some homes in Sierra Madre.Same goes for SMPD abused until they are needed then credited for their actions.
      BTW a firefighter's lifespan is greatly diminished by exposure to toxic substance they don't live long enough to enjoy their pensions much.

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    5. The fire department being discussed in this article is from northern California. I am not sure that we here in Sierra Madre are going to "loose" anything, 10:19. Except, of course, our minds from reading your crazy posts.

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    6. Where's my pension after 20-30 years of working? I'm paying for the city crew's bennies, WHERE ARE MINE?

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    7. Me too 11:02.

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    8. Where's my pension after 20-30 years of working?
      Umm perhaps you made poor career choices.
      30 years on the railroad I'm done my bennies are deposited like clockwork.

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    9. You pulling down $250,000 retirement a year, Dave?

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    10. No. But if I include lifetime free medical might be closer than I think.

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    11. The issue isn't pensions. People earn them and are entitled to have them. The problem is certain government employee unions in this state have gained an incredible political advantage over the taxpayers, who are now forced to pay excessive retirement benefits. Nobody is begrudging anyone their retirement. What is troublesome is when certain government employees receive huge amounts of money, far beyond what anyone whose taxes are used to cover those payments are making.

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    12. No, I begrudge public employee defined benefit plans. Private sector had to give them up years ago because they cost too much money.

      Public employee unions don't give a damn about the cost. If the city/county/state runs out of money, just borrow more to cover the pension plan bills (like Pasadena had to do for their defunct police/fire pension). Taxpayers not even born yet get to pay back the bonds. Helluva a deal.

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    13. Dave L, good for you! A private sector pension that I'm not paying for. Yippee!

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    14. California is a corrupt one party state. And our gutless representatives in Sacramento give public employee unions everything they ask for in exchange for campaign cash bribes. With we the taxpayers picking up the bill.

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    15. I think we can do without our little fire department that could. When the fires come, other local fire departments are quick to help out.

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    16. Sure. There is no greater cost cutting move than getting rid of a volunteer fore department.

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    17. 2:54 hit the nail on the head. The taxpayers need a union of sorts to fight back against the public employee unions and get their pay and pensions in alignment with some sort of normalcy. Whenever I hear of a public employee dying off prematurely, I focus on the money we'll be saving on their pension, unless their spouse continues getting it. They don't care about the taxpayer, guess what? I don't care about them, end of story.

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  5. Public Safety is on the gravy train.

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    1. It is extortion. Pay us the big money or you will die. The SMPOA used that tactic in 2008.

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    2. I like trains, except for the buller train and other trains I have to pay for.

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    3. Don't forget www.SierraMadreSucks.com, the SMPOA's extortion website of 2008.

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    4. 11:03 I remember that sign - our brilliant PD union and the actual rank and file were out in force telling us how much we sucked and how we need to pay them

      or they'll sue us into oblivion and that's just what we did

      and we kept getting more hotheads and itchy trigger fingers who shot a unarmed man while awaking from a nap

      I sort of agree today that Sierra Madre sucks cause the last 15 years since the Doyle era to Buchanan/Mosca, Moran/Walsh and Harabedian - it has been a bad experience and will continue until we just stop electing knuckleheads JUST CAUSE they run

      last election I left my third choice blank that's what we all need to do and send a message

      the last place guy in a previous election gets elected cause he was all we had running but at least he's not another blowhard lawyer

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    5. 12;46 please move if you think sierra madre sucks

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    6. 6:24 - move and make Sierra Madre better. Last thing we need are foul mouthed idiots.

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  6. Public Sector Unions vs. Local Politics
    http://unionwatch.org/public-sector-unions-vs-local-politics/

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  7. Anybody know why the staff reports or agenda for next Tuesday's City Council meeting is not up on their website yet?

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    1. They have til Friday night. Or actually, by law, I think it's Saturday night.

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    2. The only thing they have listed for next Tuesday is Senior Bingo.

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    3. Agenda is now up. They have the Bldg Moratorium up next to last. Item #7. Item #8 is a strategic retreat update. Thank you Mayor Harabedian for letting us know early where you stand on this vital issue.

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    4. http://66.92.220.85:8090/tylercm/eagleweb/downloads/City_Council_Meeting_Agenda_6_24_2014.pdf?id=DOC164S1.A0&parent=DOC164S1

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    5. The building moratorium should be the first item discussed. No question.

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  8. Mayor John "Duck" HarabedianJune 20, 2014 at 5:05 PM

    California Drought: Sierra Madre commission to review water conservation ordinance
    (http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/environment-and-nature/20140620/california-drought-sierra-madre-commission-to-review-water-conservation-ordinance)

    The Sierra Madre Energy Environment and Natural Resources Commission will review the city’s water conservation ordinance at a July 16 meeting.

    City officials recommend that residents participate in the meeting so the Commission could collect as many constructive ideas as possible.

    While reviewing the ordinance, the Commission will look at similar ordinances from other cities, community input and analysis of the effectiveness of the current ordinance. It will also study building code amendments and include water conservation measures such as gray water use and water conserving fixtures.

    The Commission expects to present its recommendations to the City Council in October.

    --- watch as the mayor attempts to duck his responsibilities and shove this all of on a commission.

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    1. So why are they hiring a consultant for $50,000 when they have Kim Klymer Kelly?

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    2. When are they going to change that commission's ridiculously pretentious name?

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    3. The lawn police are coming....and it's about time.

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    4. I don't think 'no watering lawns' can be enforced, but it sure is easy to see who is ignoring the need to stop using most of our water on landscaping.

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    5. So when are the city officials going to let the residents in on this meeting? I suppose they will publicize it like they did the Police Town Hall and other meeting we should have known about much earlier. However, I am sick of scheduling important meetings in July and August when many people have plans to be away.

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    6. Harabedian is worried about the building moratorium movement so he's throwing up dodges. He is becoming the male Enid Joffe.

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    7. Cities are famous for having "stealth meetings" in July and August. SOP

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  9. There are 4 staff members working overtime at the Friday night movie at the park. Doing what, you may ask? One running the projector (which anyone can run - it's not a specialized thing anymore) and 3 handing out surveys about the Friday night movie.
    Maddening! Do they have any sense at all?

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    1. They have very good sense - for their own paychecks.

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    2. They want to funnel all available cash into city hall coffers. If this is anything like the trail race they were charging $72.50 an hour for that "service."

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    3. They aren't working overtime, they started their shifts later. They don't have to, but they care about this city and sacrifice their personal lives to make this place a better place to live. Yet all you guys do is sit be hid your computers and trash them. You are sad and lonely people.

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    4. We are sad and lonely people who apparently pay city staff $72.50 an hour to mook around events that have little to do with them. All so that they can "recoup."

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