Thursday, July 24, 2014

Despite What You've Heard - The Sunsetting Of The UUT Is Not The End Of The World

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At Tuesday evening's City Council meeting we heard a discussion on Agenda Item #5, which deals with the sunsetting of our current state highest utility taxes. A distinction that the voters had decided to lose last April.

Titled “FY 2014-2015 Budget: Direction Regarding General Fund Budget Reductions In Preparation For Utility User Tax Sunset,” it was discussed with great solemnity by City Staff. And in order to emphasize the seriousness of this situation, each city department head rose from their seats and one by one approached the public comment podium to share with all of us just how terrible the UUT sunset is going to be for them.

Then our City Manager, and in the most melancholy way possible, detailed what cuts might be made, and with each example took care to outline just how difficult this would be, and how bad it would make things for the City of Sierra Madre. It was a reprise of a very familiar performance from Elaine. Of course, things such as that now famous $37,800 a year health care plan, perhaps the highest of its kind in all the State of California, were not mentioned.

At the end of this discussion an unfortunate situation developed between Councilmembers Delmar and Arizmendi, and a rather truculent Gene Goss. The difference of opinion was over the severity of the effects of the sunsetting UUT, with Councilmember Goss becoming nearly abusive about it. Here is how one reader commented on this set-to:


We here at The Tattler agree with Rachelle and Denise. To say that the survival of Sierra Madre is dependent upon this city charging one of the very few double-digit utility tax rates to be found anywhere in this country is just absurd. The real issue here is whether Sierra Madre is willing to accommodate Los Angeles style benefit and health care packages for its unionized employees, or pay for something that is a little more in line with what a small city of less than 11,000 people can afford.

As you may recall, during the run-up to last April's voter verdict on Measure UUT, City Hall was claiming that it would lose about half a million dollars for every 2% the UUT went down. So in 2015 at 8% they'd be off $500,000, and in 2016 at 6% they'd be down a $1,000,000 from what they'd been receiving.

Or, to put it on the Josh Moran coffee scale, the approximate cost of 250,000 grande' cups of Starbucks latte,' with that always essential extra shot added. Only the most callow of coffee parvenus would ever drink their latte' any other way. I'm sorry, but that is just how I feel.

The threat heard loud and often from certain involved persons is that this loss of revenue would lead to such dire consequences as the closing of the Library, outsourcing the Sierra Madre Police Department, and the end to our sweet little arrangement with the Paramedics. Defibrillators and all. In other words, just general chaos, mayhem and some of the milder forms of rioting in the street. With decorum, of course. Please remember where you are.

We here at The Tattler would hate to see any of that happen. We were also tickled pink to see Measure UUT go down in flames. Something that may cause some of those among us to sense a contradiction. But we're not like that. Well, not often.

So, putting pencil to paper, I believe we have come up with a way to have our cake and allow the City to eat some, too. Without wholesale firings, or the streets left wide open to crime and mayhem because we have too few cops.

The above graph was created for us by our friends at TransparentCalifornia.com. Note that the cost of these very generous health, dental and vision care plans we give to our city's Top 10 most benefit enriched employees average a ridiculously high $29,601 a year.

Also note that the cost of such health benefits to the average American citizen is right around $7,000. In our view that is quite a discrepancy.

It is important to note that there would be a potential savings of $226,000 a year if these Top 10 city government employees simply received an average costing health plan. And in a city where we have been forced to accept two water rate hikes in 5 years, a nearly 100% in combined increases, it is an unconscionable amount.

$226,000 a year is a lot of dough in anybody's estimation. Even our City Hall would be impressed by such a figure. But ask yourself this, what if all of those health, dental and vision plans given to our city's somewhat overcompensated employees were brought down to that national average of $7,000 per year? How much money could we save then?

Below is a chart which details the compensation received by our full-time City of Sierra Madre employees. It will enlarge if you click on it. The cost of their health, dental and vision plans are broken out on the right. Those figures are all over the map, as you can clearly see. How this might have happened I am not sure. But there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to it.


So what we have done here is add up the costs of all of those yearly platinum health care plan costs detailed in the column titled "Health, Dental and Vision." That number comes out to $560,649. Or way more than half of what the City of Sierra Madre will lose every year when our UUT here goes down to 6% in 2016.

There are 34 health, vision and dental plans listed here that are above the national average of $7,000. 34 times $7,000 comes to $238,000 per year. Subtract that from our yearly nut of $560,649 and we the taxpaying citizens of Sierra Madre could save $322,649 every year! Or nearly a third of that yearly $1,000,000 lost due to the sunsetting of the UUT.

What this struggle at City Hall is really all about is saving union negotiated benefits, such as $30,000+ a year health care plans, from the chopping block. Yet by bringing such benefit costs down to the level most tax paying residents of Sierra Madre get, saving city services such as the Library and Police Department becomes possible.

You have to wonder why Councilmember Goss would want to put union issues that he feels are important above the safety and needs of the people of Sierra Madre.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

52 comments:

  1. It bears repeating what City Hall is trying to do when they tell us all of the drastic things that will happen when we don't have higher taxes, or in this case, when the UUT tax is allowed to sunset. Its called the "Firemen First" principle. Its a common trick used by public employee unons in every city in America to try to maintain or increase revenues so that there is more money available to fund their ever-increasing salaries, pensions and benefits. Its a very simple strategy. When you talk about cutting the budget, you don't mention cutting out things like the waste, inefficiencies, fraud or extravagant healthcare plans. Instead, you only mention those things that will cause the maximum amount of pain to the residents and scare the residents the most, hence the "Fireman First" principle. They say we have to reduce the police force, lay off the firemen, get rid of the paramedics, and close the library. In other words, they only mention cutting things that will cause the maximum pain to the residents in order to scare them into supporting higher taxes. Not too long ago, it was either the county or the state that said that if we didn't support a certain tax, they would have to close down the restrooms at the beaches or close down the parks. On a local level, they tells us that police and paramedic response times will increase and people will die. This tactic is used at every level of government - city, state and federal. Will the public employees ever mention cutting their health plans, salaries or increasing their retirement age.....never. Thankfully, people are finally waking up to these tactics and seeing them for what they are.

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    1. Great post, 6:40.

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    2. Amen. Sierra Madre really is waking up. I think we owe it to Mater Dolorosa. That seems to have pushed everything over the edge for people.

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  2. I'm far from a rocket scientist, but if I am reading the above chart correctly, I see many questionable things. Why the overtime for police? What they pay in overtime is a decent salary for someone. What does lump sum pay mean? No part time employees are mentioned. Is that because they have no benefits? It has always been my impression, in the private sector, that supervisors didn't get overtime. That's why they were always paid the big bucks. There is more to be saved if all employees were lowered to $7,000.00 in benefits. Also, wouldn't workman's comp be less with less dollar amount in payroll? I was there Tuesday. All of their pretty pie charts showed the bulk of the chart going for payroll. In comparison, a small amount was for services. Also, if the city would throw less work to the city attorney , she would not being making $100,000 more over her retainer. I also would like to know what was discussed in their closed hearings. According to the agenda it was about contract negotiations with the union.

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    1. I don't understand how our little town, that has remained the same size for so long, grew a great big city hall. How many "staff" did we have 15 years ago, 30 years ago?

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    2. Don't know. But the population has been about the same the whole time.

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    3. If memory serves me correct, former city attorney Charlie Martin worked "at will".
      I wonder how much money the city would save if the current city attorney worked " at will"?

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    4. City Hall exists mostly to take in money. A lot of which they apparently spend on themselves.

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    5. until the pension plans are gutted we are just chasing our own tails

      dump the pension ponzi scheme, stop paying 50 year old "retirees" a full salary

      when did a 20 year retirement plan become the norm in public service?

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  3. Hmm ... $30K platinum health care plans or a Police Department. Why is this so easy a decision?

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    1. Nothing a financially responsible and efficiency aware person could not handle.

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    2. Everyone at city hall should be given a chance to reapply for their job. And if hired they will need to agree to an entirely new benefits package. One that is far more attuned to the marketplace that most Sierra Madreans live in.

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    3. our PD has tripled in size yet it still can't do serious police functions

      we could bring in the Sheriff's Dept and cut back out PD in half and we'd have more qualifed and better service

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    4. La Canada/Flintridge uses the LASD, larger area, more people, and they pay about half of what we do. Are they smarter than we are?

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    5. No, we are dumber than they are.

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  4. In my simple business experience ,an untrustworthy, alarmist and incompetent manager has their budget cut to zero. That isn't draconian. It is to save the company from bankruptcy. That is the way things work in the real world. And most of manage to follow the real world rules. The City of Sierra Madre seems a contrarian place by comparison. All the negative characteristics you could list seem to be 'normal'.
    Much as I applaud the UUT action we've achieved ,I am reluctant to believe that will be sufficient to solve the problem. Without competent ,honest people who have our interests at heart ,we're doomed to this contrarian situation.
    Thank goodness Delmar and Arizmendi are helping us. Can these two stalwarts carry the water alone for the rest?

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    1. These are all strong points. I think this is what happens when a city government's interests are contrary to the interests of the taxpayers. The truth does not get spoken, and the money of the residents goes for things they were not told about.

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    2. Both Delmar and Arizmendi have real world experience, and are currently engaged in careers where they have to deal with budgets and benefits. I anticipate a whole new increase in the councils' knowledge and consequent actions.

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    3. That's the difference between experienced leaders and a paper pusher.

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    4. That is bad news for the city manager.

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    5. I bet Aguilar had a few moments of personal grief when those highly capable council women were elected.

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    6. Panic is the word I would use.

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    7. Elaine is much more subdued in city council meetings these days. She used to finish sentances for Nancy and Josh. That role has been diminished.

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    8. It doesn't look as if Elaine is having fun.

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    9. self preservation protection of a pension plan

      outrageous benefits, in the private sector the decision maker for the health plan would be fired

      my first inclination is why overpay? who is benefiting?

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    10. Elaine knows that alot of people are po'd at her, not as a person but as OUR employee, she and other public employees believe they work for a union, not the people

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    11. Themselves. The same forces that turned California into a public employee pension basket case have also happened here. People are just waking up to it now. A small town cannot carry so massive a burden.

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    12. 9:05, we are doomed if we keep electing the same old same old

      last election we had a choice between Goss and Green (another lawyer) and if we had a 3rd alternative who put the residents first, we'd finally be able to make some postiive long term charnges

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  5. The numbers couldn't be clearer. Thanks Tattler.

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  6. Former UUT SupporterJuly 24, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    Is Gene Goss responsible for any of his department's budget at Long Beach City College? I hope not.

    It is readily apparent by his quick jumps to attack the cut the UUT crowd, and last Tuesday's "where would you cut?' - channeling his inner Noah Green - when talking about the budget.

    BTW, did anyone notice that now Gene and some others refer to it as the $800,000 shortfall? Funny, I thought it was a million dollars? Did $ 200,000 magically appear? Yes, it did, but it was no magic. It is increasing property taxes. The City knew it was there all the time.

    “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. ” ― George Orwell

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    1. I'm sorry but Gene just doesn't come across as a solid decision maker - he throws out cliche's and simpleton academic questions.

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    2. well I'd cut salaries - it's ridiculous for the city to pay over almost $ 200 K annually to a head and assistant librarian

      I'd seriously investigage subcontracting out a portion of our police services to the County Sheriff's - if LaCanada and Altadena can do it, why can't we? the PD union has proven to be corrupt

      How about reviewing out benefit vendor and call them in immediately to explain and revise the benefit packages?

      Fix the pension plan - stop allowing PD officers to retire at 50 (and others) and our grandkids will be paying their bloated pensions for years to come.

      Use your brain Gene - quit asking rhetorical questions or wondering out loud.

      if you want us to do what you said you could do, then resign and I'm sure you can be replaced.

      jeez, academics and lawyers- blah blah blah

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    3. Gene is a union guy. So is Johnny. They cannot say what their priorities are.

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    4. I don't have a problem keeping SMPD, if they're cost competitive to alternate law enforcement choices. Let them bid.

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    5. The assist. librarian is long gone, and the position was downgraded. I don't know how much less the person makes now. The head librarian has created for our City over $100,000 in grants in the past year and a half. Not too shabby I'd say. When we got the bid for the Sheriff in 2010, it was for bare minimum coverage with no frills, it would be extra to have coverage we want and expect from law enforcement. (and don't bring up the Butt shooting again, I know, I know.) That bid was about the same as we are paying for our own force and we would have had to pay extra for e.g. local dispatch and other services.

      Part-time employees do not get benefits and all positions are frozen. I say we not hire any FTE to replace someone who leaves until 2016 when we see how this all plays out. Employees should be cross-trained to fill in for anyone who is out sick, takes a day off, or takes vacation. PT employees should not be used to fill in for them. Starting times and lunch times should be staggered so there will be someone there to service the customer. (The parks and rec department in Santa Clarita answers their phones from 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday except during 12:00 to 1:00.) I suspect their city hall hours are the same. How less frustrating that would be to be able to call our City Staff during the hours you need to talk with them and not just Monday through Thursday from 11:00 to 5:30.

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    6. Sorry, but it is readily apparent the Gene Goss is not a very intelligent guy.

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  7. Wonder when Gene, Harabedian and Capoccia will apologize for the lies about a $ 1,000,000 budget cut that were in the Yes on UUT mailings and articles?

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    1. City Hall is never wrong. They just come up with a new story.

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    2. One of the cardinal rules of politics is "Never apologize, never explain."

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  8. There are 25!!! home sales pending in Sierra Madre right now. Better reserve the dump truck so the City can pick up all the additional property tax money that will be coming in. Those aren't short sales.

    Did the Library open today?

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    1. It was sold. It is being turned into a Claim Jumper.

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    2. Damn. And I was hoping for a Fresh 'N Easy.

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    3. great, I hope none of the home sales are bought by lawyers.

      we'll hear how much he or she "loves" the city but has to run for Council cause the city needs to change

      when a house is sold someone ought to drop off a flyer telling the new residents to ck out the Tattler and ignore Susan Henderson

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  9. WHAT WOULD YOU THINK IF SIERRA MADRE HAS AN 8.43 YEAR SUPPLY OF WEATER?

    WHY HAS CITY HALL CREATED A WATER ORDIANCE WHICH WILL KILL OUR LANDSCAPING?

    WHY HAS CITY HALL RAISED OUR WATER RATES 200%?

    DID KAREN - CITY HALLS FINANCE DIRECTOR STATE TUESDAY EVENING THAT CITY HALL / INTERNA:L SERVICES was spending the water & sewer enterprise monies to operate city hall?

    looking for correction and proof that these statements are incorrect?

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    1. All CAPS: Feel The Rage!!

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  10. when the city can rip off the Mt Wilson Trail Race and the Director of the Race allows it, I have a hard time believing that the city has budget issues

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  11. certainly the contract and breakdown of the benefit packages would be public information wouldn't it?

    who is the company that we are contracted with?

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  12. This city is a microcosm of the issues you'll find in LA City as well.

    Just consider these two facts about the L.A. fire department:

    Its personnel recently secured a 26 percent uptick in their total average compensation package. This package now sits at well over $200,000 a year, including $106,000 in salary and $65,000 in retirement contributions and otherwise unspecified "human resource benefits."

    L.A. firefighters still regularly use paper maps. A couple years ago, the department got called to an address in the community of Woodland Hills that was established after the map they were using had been printed. The engine lost its way, the fire raged unabated, and several people died. The victims’ families successfully sued the city for millions... Then, a year later, the same thing happened again.

    http://reason.com/archives/2014/07/23/los-angeles-is-killing-itself/

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  13. Is the finance director planning to leave soon? Heard a rumor---

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