The top of the salary ranges for Santa Rosa’s police and fire chiefs were increased 6 and 10 percent respectively by the City Council on Tuesday to ensure they are paid more than their subordinates. The move doesn’t trigger raises for Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm or interim Fire Chief Mark McCormick, but it does allow raises to be granted at the discretion of the city manager.
A divided Santa Rosa City Council approved a $315 million budget Wednesday that preserves police and fire services and keeps open popular city facilities like pools, but pays for those services in some unpopular ways, including a parking fee at Howarth Park. Three dissenting council members said they were unhappy with the way public safety budgets were being spared deeper cuts at the expense of other city departments.
Santa Rosa voters last fall passed a quarter-percent sales tax to protect “vital city services” from being gutted. In just over a week, they’ll see if they’re getting what they paid for. The budget debate gripping City Hall for the past several weeks culminates with three days of hearings beginning June 14 that will determine how the $6.5 million in new sales taxes will be spent.
Between 1995 and 2008, police and fire department spending, as a share of Santa Rosa’s general fund, grew from 43.9 percent to 55.1 percent, a 25 percent increase. What’s happened since? Read on.
Santa Rosa officials said Tuesday they intend to seek new concessions from city workers to help restore more than $2 million in funding for police and fire services. The latest version of the budget would keep Fire Station 10 open in southwest Santa Rosa and provide funding for police officers downtown and in schools.
A spending plan prepared by Petaluma City Manager John Brown would lay off 12 of the city’s 300 workers and freeze seven vacant jobs indefinitely. Union leaders are now deciding how to respond. Some may be willing to take pay cuts to preserve jobs.
The Santa Rosa City Council moved to protect public safety departments from the budget ax Thursday, advising the city manager not to move forward with a $700,000 cut to the Police Department and to find the savings from city departments other than the Fire Department. City Manager Kathy Millison thinks she has found a way to achieve the savings without closing Ridgway Swim Center and the city’s senior center — but it will require employee concessions and cuts in other departments.
Petaluma’s mayor-elect David Glass took a shot this week at the city’s police and fire unions. He said he discovered that police and fire PACs listed city phone numbers on campaign documents. And he continues to raise questions about the improper use of the Police Department’s street address on voter registration forms. “I don’t know that they meant to do it, but a lot of things that happened in this campaign are not OK,” Glass said.
If the election results stand, three out of five members of the Healdsburg City Council will be former police officers or firefighters. All are drawing pensions, at a time when public workers’ compensation and retirement packages are coming under increased scrutiny. Will they vote as a bloc? “I don’t see that happening,” says retired police chief Susan Jones, who was just elected to the council.
Public employee pensions are quickly becoming one of the hottest political issues in the state. On Wednesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said reducing government pension costs will be the top priority of his final eight months in office.