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GULLIXSON: A reminder: Always check the small print

By PAUL GULLIXSON

This is a correction, of sorts. On June 19, we wrote an editorial (“SR budget is not what voters were sold”) that read:
“Most troubling is the (Santa Rosa) council’s preoccupation with Measure O ‘baseline’ funding for public safety, as if this was a lock-box mandate from Santa Rosa voters in 2004. It wasn’t. Measure O was a quarter-cent sales tax to augment police and fire services and gang prevention programs. The measure was never intended to establish minimum funding levels for public safety.”

This rankled some at City Hall, because, as it turns out, we were wrong. While I would still argue that voters never intended to set baseline funding for police and fire, that is exactly what they did — whether they knew it or not.

Because right there on page seven, paragraph G of Resolution 3680 approved by the City Council on Aug. 3, 2004 — and ratified by 70 percent of the voters as Measure O — it states: “During the continuation of the tax, annual funding of Police and Fire Department purposes … may not be lower than the funding approved in the 2004-2005 budget, adjusted annually” for inflation.

The intent of this was to make sure that the $7 million or so raised by the quarter-cent sales tax would not be used to replace existing funds for public safety. That’s understandable.

But the way this funding guarantee was worded — which, as I recall, was never mentioned in the campaign and appears nowhere in our newspaper’s coverage — is now coming back to bite the city.

Given the historic drop in city revenues in recent years, this “baseline” promise is now threatening to allow public safety funding to eat up an even larger share of the budget for police and fire. It also has the potential of being a stumbling block to bringing retirement benefits for city employees down to more sustainable levels.

As I noted in a previous column, between 1995 and 2008, police and fire spending, as a share of Santa Rosa’s general fund, grew from 43.9 percent to 55.1 percent. It’s now more than 60 percent.

But it would have been higher had the City Council not taken advantage of the out that Measure O provided from this minimum-funding promise. It allows the City Council to approve lower funding if six of the seven council members agree to do so.

This is exactly what the City Council has done for the past three years. The question is, how long will that last?

Santa Rosa City Councilman John Sawyer acknowledges that the minimum funding level was not discussed much if at all during the campaign in 2004.

“Now we have to deal with it as a community,” he said.

But it seems the City Council is more interested in dealing with it by just allowing public safety to take more of the general fund budget.

This year, in the initial budget prepared by the city manager, the Police Department was below 2004 funding levels by $2 million. Gang prevention programs were below minimum levels by $110,000. (Funding for the Fire Department, as yet, has not dropped below 2004 levels.)

The council responded by directing the city manager to restore all of the gang prevention monies and putting $750,000 back to police. Meanwhile, City Manager Kathy Millison has gotten the message that she needs to find a way to restore the remaining $1.3 million next year.

But what guarantees does the city have that city revenues will be any better next year?

In a word, none.

Some would argue that the council should be less concerned about giving public safety more money as addressing the flaws in Measure O and other documents that handcuff the city in its efforts to deal with its financial challenges.

That is exactly what could be in the works. Later this year, the city is due to begin its charter review process. This is the time when the City Council appoints a committee to clean up the wording and/or make substantive changes to the key documents that govern Santa Rosa. All of these changes would then be put to a vote of the public — a vote that’s likely to be held in the fall of 2012.

One of those changes could include altering the wording of Measure O to take out the baseline mandate. Another could be taking out what one city official called “the elephant in the room” at City Hall — the binding arbitration clause. This is the charter amendment approved by voters in 1996 that requires that pay and benefits for Santa Rosa police and firefighters be in line with comparable communities and that any labor disputes go to binding arbitration, a cumbersome and costly process that cities, in general, are loath to utilize.

The charter review also could include changing the wording of the clause that requires the city to use CalPERS for retirement benefits.

All of this is to suggest that Santa Rosa’s push to bring expenses in line with revenues — and confront its $100 million pension shortfall — will come to a hilt in the middle of next year, when just about all of public employee contracts are set to expire and the public could be voting on what could be some substantial changes.

That’s when it will become clear whether the city is serious about finally bringing expenses in line with revenues or is hoping for something else.





12 Responses to “GULLIXSON: A reminder: Always check the small print”

  1. Richard Smith says:

    Someone needs to educate me on how, why,and when city and federal employees started paying into their own separate retirement plans. They don’t pay into social security or medical,but are able to collect from these programs? How is this possible? I’ve paid into these programs for over forty years,and all I read about is how we need to cut back on them or they’ll run out.

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  2. Jim M says:

    @Resolution
    I’m not totally confident on this but as I understand it the CalPERS only clause removes the possibility for a segment (or more) of the retirement benefit to be defined contribution (similar to a 401K)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  3. Resolution says:

    Please, eliminate the CALPERS only clause. I have Joe Schmotts investments and you can put your Billions with me! We have a great ice burg water reclaimation project that will only take $4Billion… You money is safe with me!!!
    Give it a rest people. CALPERS came out of this crash better than most. How may retirement accounts do you want? The only reason CALPERS is a mandate is because they do have oversite.

    A fund that lost money in 2008 was called, everyone. They still refuse to print that CALPERS recovered over 80% of it’s losses and is still growing as the biggest and the baddest. Where you gonna go?

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  4. bill says:

    Measure O which our cop mayor uses to back up his position on his public safety buddies was cleverly worded so the average vote would not get its true impact.

    Now we are broke and the cops want to continue to suck our blood. The entire legal establishment are the single biggest expense that eats up our taxes. And for what?

    To incarcerate people who drink and smoke pot primarily. Both of which belong in the medical community if excess has occurred and not in the legal establishment unless others have been impacted by these behaviors.

    Bottom line is we have been paying cops too much money to be doing the wrong types of activities. Why?

    Because we do not roll over our politicians often enough.

    As a veteran public defender once told me, “cops run the county”.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  5. Jim M says:

    These three changes to the city charter suggested in the article are great and very reasonable ideas, what can we do to make it happen?

    Changes:
    1) remove binding arbitration
    2) modify measure O to be the lesser of the inflation adjusted amount or budget percent
    3) remove the CalPERS only clause

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  6. Demosthenes says:

    I love the cries of corrupt politicians in the comments and using propositions as examples. Propositions are passed by the voters, not the politicians.

    Instead, we should be lamenting the stupidity of the voters.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 5

  7. bill says:

    (-: for everyone -:)
    One day a florist went to a barber for a haircut.
    After the cut, he asked about his bill, and the barber replied,
    ‘I cannot accept money from you, I’m doing community service this week.’
    The florist was pleased and left the shop.
    When the barber went to open his shop the next morning, there was a ‘thank you’ card and a dozen roses waiting for him at his door.

    Later, a cop comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, the barber again replied,
    ‘I cannot accept money from you , I’m doing community service this week.’
    The cop was happy and left the shop.
    The next morning when the barber went to open up, there was a ‘thank you’ card and a dozen donuts waiting for him at his door.

    Then a Congressman came in for a haircut, and when he went to pay his bill, the barber again replied,
    ‘I can not accept money from you. I’m doing community service this week.’
    The Congressman was very happy and left the shop..
    The next morning, when the barber went to open up, there were a dozen Congressmen lined up waiting for a free haircut.

    And that, my friends, illustrates the fundamental difference between the citizens of our country and the politicians who run it.
    BOTH POLITICIANS AND DIAPERS NEED TO BE CHANGED OFTEN AND FOR THE SAME REASON!

    Voting is simple…Never re-elect anyone! The longer they are there the more corrupt they become. For over the last 100 years this country has been run by Democrats AND Republicans. What a fine job they have done, huh! Both parties are to blame for the mess we are now in. They don’t deserve your vote ever again. There are over 50 political groups in this country. For a listing and description of them click here. Surely one of them must better represent your views than the two everyone votes for now. The only thing that keeps people from checking out alternatives to the clowns that run now is this winning is everything attitude that has invaded our minds. Don’t vote for someone because you think he will win, vote for someone that will do the best job. BTW, I think that they are called parties because all the Democrats AND Republicans have done for over a hundred years is party hardy on our money. They don’t deserve your vote ever again. (Do you get the theme here yet?)
    copy and paste this article from Lisa Bee

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 9

  8. Steveguy says:

    If we are to survive financially as a City, County, State, and Nation, we had better be able to fix bad law, instead of the ‘written in stone’ attitude of clearly unsustainable spending and promises.

    We are doomed by our own votes.Too late as the we have already dropped off the cliff. It’s not the fall that hurts you, it is the landing.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

  9. Steveguy says:

    Do you want to see fine print ?????

    This is from Prop 40,(2002) the green the conservancies act, as they are the ones that financed most of the campaign FOR Prop 40 :

    1) To the State Coastal Conservancy….. $ 200,000,000

    (2) To the California Tahoe Conservancy….. $ 40,000,000

    (3) To the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy….. $ 40,000,000

    (4) To the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy….. $ 20,000,000

    (5) To the San Joaquin River Conservancy….. $ 25,000,000

    (6) To the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and

    Mountains Conservancy….. $ 40,000,000

    (7) To the Baldwin Hills Conservancy….. $ 40,000,000

    (8) To the San Francisco Bay Area Conservancy Program….. $ 40,000,000

    NO STRINGS

    Prop 40, get it ? Each tossed a million or so in campaign funds to pass the Bond. They enriched themselves in fine print.

    Initiatives / Bond Measures/ Rail Projects, even the subject as what you are writing about are usually rife with damaging items. Immoral at best, criminal at worst.

    The Prop 40 observation that I saw was never published. They had champagne celebrations for spending $1 Million to collect $40 Million, a great return on investment.

    Ahhh, current politics, rife with corruption and favors.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2

  10. Fiscal Conservative says:

    So now we will be screwed by the unions fine print placed on what was sold as an emergency bailout for the City.

    The taxpayers were compassionate enough to give a helping hand but missed the weenie language on the back page.

    A public law that pays them what they earned back in 2005?…WOW!

    A clause that states the City can only use CalPERS?…Unbelevable.

    This is nothing more than corruption.

    This clearly was not the intent of the voter. Let’s recall this damn thing and we can keep or 1/4 cent sales tax. Charter review is simply just too lax.

    This needs to be investigated. I think those who wrote the legislation should spend some time in jail.

    John Sawyer says: ‘Now we need to deal with this as a community” I say we need to deal with corruption on this scale with DOJ investigators, a State judge and jury.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 9

  11. Joseph Donegan says:

    “There are occasions in the course of judicial decisionmaking when it becomes necessary to stand athwart the relentless march of logic and shout, “Enough already!!”" Fluharty v. Fluharty (1997) 59 Cal. App. 4th 484 [69 Cal.Rptr.2d 244]
    I think this would be an appropiate statement on the situation.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2

  12. Joseph Donegan says:

    The city of Santa Rosa could take lessons from cities like Carlsbad California. We are on the verge of RICO act violation while Carlsbad has a balanced budget. Very curious situation, and of course there is always the augument that they will not show up if you call. All in all a dificult situation politicaly.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

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