WatchSonoma Watch

Budget takes center stage in Santa Rosa this week


Up to three days of hearings on Santa Rosa’s proposed budget begin Tuesday afternoon, but the weighty debate may not start until the following day.

The public hearing on the city’s proposed 2011-12 spending plan is scheduled to begin sometime after 5 p.m. and continue Wednesday and Thursday mornings if necessary.

One of the core issues — funding for the police and fire departments — is scheduled to come up at the Wednesday session, which is expected to begin about 10 a.m. after a closed-door session on labor negotiations.

City Manager Kathy Millison originally proposed a $115.1 million general fund budget that spread cuts across city services.

But city council members including Mayor Ernesto Olivares urged Millison to restore $2 million to public safety, $1.3 million to keep a fire station open and $750,000 to preserve five police positions.

He said deeper cuts would conflict with two measures approved by voters, 2004’s Measure O, a sales tax specific to public safety and gang prevention, and Measure P, last fall’s sales tax for “vital city services” that refers prominently to public safety services.

Millison now is proposing to fund those increases through $1 million in employee concessions, $700,000 in cuts to non-public safety departments and the elimination of a $350,000 surplus.

The additional expenditures would boost the general fund budget to $116.7 million, a $7.8 million increase, or 7 percent, over the current budget.

The bulk of the additional revenue is coming from the $6.5 million in additional sales tax from Measure P, plus $520,000 in expected revenue from the imposition of a $5 daily parking fee at Howarth Park.

It is unlikely that negotiations with unions over concessions will be resolved by the time the budget takes effect on July 1, Millison said. If concessions can’t be reached by the end of the first quarter, further cuts would need to be made, Millison said.

Because the budget proposes spending less on police than the $41.6 million baseline set by Measure O, the council needs six votes to agree to go below that level.

If the council can’t muster six votes, then by June 30 Millison would be required to implement a budget with an additional $1.2 million for police and equivalent cuts elsewhere.

21 Responses to “Budget takes center stage in Santa Rosa this week”

  1. GAJ says:

    A real world example of one form of Pension Spiking:

    “Pete Nowicki had been making $186,000 shortly before he retired in January as chief for a fire department shared by the municipalities of Orinda and Moraga in Northern California. Three days before Mr. Nowicki announced he was hanging up his hat, department trustees agreed to increase his salary largely by enabling him to sell unused vacation days and holidays. That helped boost his annual pension to $241,000.”


    And what did Mr. Nowicki do when he retired his poor worn out body?

    “In addition to drawing his pension, Mr. Nowicki currently is working for the fire department as a consultant at an annual salary of $176,400 while the department searches for his replacement.

    The boost was legal, and Mr. Nowicki said he is receiving a permissible pension. “People point to me as a poster child for pension spiking, but I did not negotiate these rules,” he said.”

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  2. NOTUTOO says:

    I read the silly explanation of Pension spiking from the Wikipedia link. It states; “Pension spiking is the process whereby public sector employees grant themselves large raises..” They’re in a bargaining unit with a contract. Exactly how does a public employee “grant” themselves raises? What, they wake up one morning and decide that they’re going to make $5.00 an hour more?

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  3. GAJ says:


    There was plenty of criticism of Davis’ unprecedented giveaway.

    From 2001; note how Davis shrugged off criticism.

    And if CalPers was majority funded by the employees themselves, with maybe a maximum taxpayer contribution of 4 percentage points, I’d have no issue. But with the taxpayer always forced to insure against bad investment decisions made by CalPers with their wallets your characterization is mistaken.

    “ANOTHER PENSION GIVEAWAY. Governor Gray Davis on October 13 signed legislation (AB 616) sponsored by unions representing local government employees that is likely to have significant impact on the budgets of cities and counties – and taxpayers. It enables unions to negotiate agreements with counties that could amount to 50 percent annual increases in pensions for employees who work to age 60. According to a report by Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Weintraub (November 1), the cost to taxpayers for the new benefit is expected to be another 3 percent to 4 percent of payroll. The current value of the higher pensions for all those workers already employed is estimated to be about $1 billion, Mr. Weintraub wrote. The governor noted that it is a local option. Local option also applied to the 1999 bill signed by Governor Davis that allows public safety workers to retire at up to 90 percent of their pay, even if they retire at age 50. Although the law had been in effect for only 22 months, some 90 local police and fire unions have gained the additional benefit for their members. (2001)”


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  4. Reality Check says:


    You are probably right that the political bad blood that will result from the Howarth Park fee will exceed any money raised.

    But . . . what would you have the council do? They had few options. Propose another increase in the sales tax? Cut public safety, as some on this board favor? Other than that, raising fees was about the only thing left.

    Oh, there’s one other thing they might have done. Actually reform the single cause of our budget problem. But that would cause a howl of protest louder even than the Howarth Park fee.

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  5. Observer says:

    The economy drops, money gets tight and all of a sudden people are looking at anyone who makes more money that they do as the enemy. 5 years ago when money was flush, no one cared about the wages and pensions, they were reasonable then. Now that there is a budget crisis everything is buz word, UNSUSTAINABLE. Most of you don’t even understand the system you are attacking. If I could put my employees into the CalPers system, the largest and most stable in the world, I would do it in a heartbeat. Sustainability is not an issue, it is a political, class warfare buzword.

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  6. Shelby says:

    @ Dan Ditto .

    Seems the only way to fix this is to gut.
    the SRFD and SRPD. and contract out to the county for as many things as they can.
    The protectors have become the enemy gutting the city from within. Thanks a lot guys.

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  7. Chucky says:

    Has the $5 charge to park at Howarth already been approved. I was at Howarth today and saw the suits walking and overheard then talking about where to put the parking kiosk. I went up and ask them if they were serious about charging families looking for something free to do and the answer was yes. One question for the people, are our tax dollars used for the park? So they are going to double charge us for a park we already pay for. Thats always good, prey upon the familes who don’t have the money to pay for activites. Is the $250,00 worth the bad blood the council will get from the public.

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  8. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @Cassandra – you could argue that Olivares was overpaid for his time as the Gang task force coordinator – (I don’t know if there were any changes to the job description…), but PERS retirement is not based on salary at retirement, but rather on the highest salary, regardless of when it occured. So even if he took a pay cut to do the gang job, his retirement would still have been based on his Lt pay. This doesn’t fall under pension spiking.

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  9. Cassandra North says:

    @LBR The mayor kept his same salary because it was fifty thousand dollars MORE than what job was supposed to pay! Hello? Olivares took his 130K (perhaps justifiable for actual police work and the responsibility and danger of carrying a weapon)salary to an 80k (beaurueacrat who goes to meetings and has far less responsibility and danger) Coordinator Job!
    The person before made 80k in the same job. Olivares made sure his retirement was at the 130k level even though he wasn’t entitled to that salary right before his retirement. How much did paying him 130k for a “coordinator’ job cost the city? And the taxpayers now that he gets it for life?

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  10. Cassandra North says:

    @ LBR Mayor Olivarez spiked his pension the same way city managers and police captains have been doing for a long time if the PD cared to investigate one of the “so Called” Pro-Business City Council they would find ample facts to show it:


    Pension Spiking occurs when employees (usually managers) increase their salary shortly before retirement so that their overall retirement pay will be higher. Check out the increase in Mayor Olivares’ salary for the years immediately preceding his retirement. It should be fairly obvious that his demands for ‘employee sacrifices’ don’t extend to police or managers….

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  11. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @Cassandra – I search the PD and found this article:
    It says that Olivares kept his same Lt salary when he transfered to Gang Prevention. Did he get any other persable income as a result of the transfer? If not, then I don’t see how he spiked his salary… I still believe that he is biased, but let’s keep our facts straight.

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  12. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @Cassandra – Can you explain further how Olivares was able to spike his retirement? Was this “Gang Enforcement Tzar” a real City position? Thanks.
    Also, does anyone know what percentage of the increased retirement costs are due to the different bargaining groups? I’ve heard that the majority are for units 2 and 5, but it would be nice to see the actual numbers. Likewise for increased healthcare costs.
    Also, are any groups besides unit 2 getting a raise?

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  13. SR Watcher says:

    I usually watch the CC meetings but am actually afraid….what won’t they do to maintain the status quo? What will the new city manager do differently since she already set the stage for this fiscal disaster? Are they going to try to look to the Mayor…and his genius plan to only look at the budget every two years… He was a City Employee two years ago….so arrogant and at the same time ignorant! You already added positions to police and fire and now your big idea is to hire more and give more money to them to burn… I think I will go outside instead…while I still have the ability and it isn’t a police and fire state..safe me…

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  14. Cassandra North says:

    Mayor Olivares is obviously putting his own self interest and the interest of his former colleagues on the police force to push through this sweetheart deal for SR Cops. It’s disgusting and a serious conflict of interest! And the Pd’s refusal to cover the fact that Olivares bumped his own pension when he left the force and become the “Gang Enforcement Tzar” shows how they have no problem concealing the conflicts of their candidates-as long as he is not Noreen Evans, Olivares can be as crooked as he wants. As for the alleged ‘pro business” Jake Ours and Scott Bartley their trading of endorsements and money by public safety was widely criticized when they tried to run a fast one by voters last election. Do they think we are that stupid that we won’t remember or notice their back room deal and its current payoff during the next election? The whole deal stinks and makes the majority council look like the worst kind of political machine. They should be ashamed.

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  15. The short sightedness on the part of public safety is nothing less than astounding. Can anyone guess what my response will be the next time our boys in blue come knocking at my door looking for public support for another of their ballot measures?

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  16. Reality Check says:

    Yes, the percentage of the general fund going to police and fire is unacceptable. But is the council doing anything other than responding to the public’s ranking of the city services it values most? I think so. While not legally bound, the council knows very well that two tax measures passed because voters wanted to maintain police and fire staffing levels.

    That a 7% increase in revenue is inadequate to sustain current service levels should focus the attention of city leaders and the public. But, I guess not.

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  17. billheh says:

    Public safety is not a sacred cow. It is a service sucking up the lion’s share of the budget. Those past measures were enacted in a healthier tax period. Now is not the same and will only get worse in the near term.

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  18. Carol Miller says:

    If these people worked for a corporation they would be out on their ears. Maybe thats why they don’t work in the private sector.

    There will be layoffs. There will be program cuts. Police and fire will be cut and there will probably be layoffs.

    Why is all of this so hard? Oh, I forgot, the unions run the city council, its not the other way around. The poor taxpayers who fund this mess are in the bleachers begging for the game to end.

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  19. Lets be Reasonable says:

    It looks like we will witness one of the more shameful episodes in Santa Rosa politics this week. The City Manager submitted a budget for the next fiscal year that asked for cuts in Public Safety. There were a number of reasons for this. One – It was felt that non-Public Safety General Fund departments had shouldered the majority of prior cuts, and could not be cut further without serious harm. Two – most of the rise in City expenses next year come from increases in Public Safety retirement costs and Unit 2’s (Fire) contractual 6% raise. Council rejected this budget and asked for a new budget without and cuts to Public Safety. This came from the new majority in the council. One of whom is an ex-cop – conflict of interest. Two others were just elected after making some sort of deal with Public Safety that resulted in their endorsement and a political contribution. This comes after Measure P, a GENERAL TAX, was passed to support the General Fund. The City did not try to get a Targeted Tax to support Public Safety, like they did earlier with Measure O, even though it is considered easier to get targeted taxes passed. It is clear that Measure P was meant to support ALL General Fund areas, not just Public Safety. So now the City Manager has submitted a new budget that restores the cuts to Public Safety (actually, it increases funding above current levels), and requires more cuts to the rest of the General Fund departments. So, these other groups will now face more layoffs, bumping, pay cuts and increased benefit costs. Since Public Safety has grown to almost 70% of the General Fund, these cuts will fall even heavier on the remaining folks. And for what? To pay for Public Safety’s (Units 2 and 5) increased retirement costs and for Fire’s (Unit 2) 6% salary increase. Oh, and to keep the Circadian Way fire station open. A station that was built to service an area that was expected to grow, but hasn’t because of the housing crash, and has VERY low existing calls for service. And to think I voted for these people! Shame on me. Shame on them.

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  20. r says:

    Unreal. Ernesto is a skunk who can’t change his stripe. We are all watching dirty politics with bought and paid for politicians. But just like in years past, we just have to sit and take it. Dear Police and Fire; please stop preying on the public perception that you are all heroes. You are not! You are greedy people who are letting the rest of the City suffer while you rake in the OT and fat benefits. You should be ashamed. But you won’t be. Dear City Council; Ditto. PS. This City Council is just a stepping stone for these folks. They aspire to be just like the rest of the greedy politicians and move up the dysfunctional ladder of democracy that has evolved in this country. Better not cut pubic safety. that won’t sound good when your opponent in the next election slings it around.

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  21. Dan Delgado says:

    While I generally support the so-called “business friendly” council members, I have to say I am dismayed at this unholy alliance they have formed with the police and fire unions. I understand the politics of securing the unions’ endorsements at election time, but the resulting affiliations are not good for the community. The police and fire unions and their resistance to pension adjustments have become public enemy #1.

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