By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In a gesture of self-sacrifice, as well as an attempt to resolve bargaining issues with employee unions, Healdsburg City Manager Marjie Pettus has taken an 8 percent cut in her compensation.
Pettus said she wanted to set an example for city workers, who are being asked to give up 7 percent in wages, benefits, or a combination of both.
“I feel it is very appropriate and probably very necessary to make clear to employees and bargaining units that concessions are coming from the top down,” Pettus said.
She also noted the current public scrutiny of government employees’ compensation, particularly the escalating costs of medical and pension benefits.
“Some people are willing to step up and give up,” she said.
Pettus agreed last week to forego her health benefits — worth about $18,000 — as well as reimbursement for $1,500 in fees she pays to a service club.
Even though she will no longer be covered by Healdsburg’s insurance program, she said she will receive family medical benefits through her husband’s employer. He works as a Santa Rosa Police officer.
Pettus will still continue to be paid $148,000 annually. But the total to the city of her salary and benefits is $250,460.
The waiver of all her health benefits and the estimated value of her Rotary Club reimbursement represents slightly more than the 7 percent in concessions that the City Council is seeking from the city’s 100 employees.
“We need 7 percent to avoid additional layoffs. That was the goal,” said Mayor Jim Wood.
He called Healdsburg’s medical benefit “extremely generous.”
“We pay 100 percent of the costs of medical for employees and their families,” which runs counter to the workplace trend, the mayor said.
Normally, a change to Pettus’ compensation package would have been placed on the City Council’s routine consent agenda, instead of being a topic of discussion.
At this week’s meeting, Councilman Tom Chambers thanked Pettus for putting the issue to the forefront and “taking some action at your own expense.”
The city has reached tentative contract agreements with its police and fire units, but is still negotiating with the bulk of the workforce, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the largest union.
That union, reportedly the farthest from reaching an agreement, represents employees in the city-run electrical utility, as well as some public works and clerical employees. IBEW representatives did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.
The city also continues to bargain with the mid-management unit and the Miscellaneous Employees Association.
Overall, according to Pettus, the concessions being sought from city employee groups amount to just over $1 million.
Over the past year, Healdsburg has consolidated some jobs and had scattered layoffs in the police, planning, and public works departments.
But expenditures continue to outpace revenues. City officials were anticipating a $624,000 deficit last year and a $327,000 shortfall in this year’s $6 million general fund. However, a one-time switch that involved the utility department fund repaying a loan to the general fund was used to cover those shortages.
Shortfalls in the city’s other funds have been covered by reserves, according to Pettus.