Budget: Spending cuts needed to avoid shortfall

Calpers

Employer rates for CalPERS continue to increase

Berkeley’s General Fund projections include a deficit of more than $5 million over the next two years, requiring city leaders to take a tough look at its more cash-strapped departments to reign in costs.

To close the gap, the city’s budget manager has recommended recurring 2% General Fund reductions across the board for city departments. Departments will present their recommendations to the city manager and City Council in the coming months.

In a work session last Tuesday night, the city’s budget manager gave Berkeley City Council members a forecast for the next two years, and pointed to areas that may pose challenges going forward. (See a PDF of her presentation.)

Three more work sessions have been planned to allow council members, city staff and members of the public to learn more about, and weigh in on, city finances. Scroll to the bottom of this story to see the dates for upcoming public meetings on the budget.

Council members called the presentation, by budget manager Teresa Berkeley-Simmons, “sobering.”

Berkeley-Simmons, in her written report to the council, said General Fund revenues, despite improvements in some areas, cannot keep pace with rising costs. (See an interactive chart of the costs here.)

“While some revenues appear to be slowly returning to a more healthy growth rate, others are not performing as well as they have in the past,” she wrote. Property transfer taxes, for example, appear to be rebounding from a slump in the past few years, but “other revenue sources are not behaving similarly.”

Interest income, for one, is projected to decline, as prior long-term investments mature and current available investments “are at historically low rates” because of Federal Reserve policy, she wrote. In fiscal year 2010-2011, the city received $5.4 million in interest income; this dropped to $4.7 in FY 2012, and is projected to bring in only $3.2 million in FY 2014, then $2.8 million in FY 2015.

Reductions also are due to less revenue from the business license tax for medical marijuana dispensaries; these revenues are expected to continue to decline, according to Berkeley-Simmons’ report.

The number of parking tickets issued continues to decline, and “ultimately this revenue source will be less than initially projected,” she wrote.

In sum, Berkeley-Simmons said the city will need to focus on managing its spending and approaching revenue projections conservatively: “Just comparing the projected increase in transfer tax with the projected decrease in interest income for FY 2014, we see that those two revenue sources combined are effectively flat. Even with the modest increases projected in other areas such as sales tax, business license tax and utility users tax, revenues are not projected to outpace expenditure growth…”

The city is also reviewing the General Fund and special funds that do not cover their own costs, and thus drain city reserves over time, wrote Berkeley-Simmons. These include the General Fund, the Refuse Fund and the Parks Tax Fund. In fiscal year 2013-14, seven funds have been identified which, in total, are projected to create a nearly $7 million structural deficit. (See a breakdown of each of these funds here, from Tuesday night’s staff report.)

To address these deficits, Berkeley-Simmons suggests a range of ideas, from a new tax on the ballot in November 2014 to help with the Parks Tax Fund to raising the fee (from $10 to $15) for parking at the Marina for the July Fourth fireworks display and the Kite Festival. That would bring in another $15,000 per year, she estimated in her report.

Other tough decisions remain ahead. The city’s Department of Health, Housing and Community Services has a projected shortfall of 8.2% in federal funding in FY 2014. The Public Health and Mental Health Services program also will face cuts. (For a more in-depth discussion on what may be in store for the department, attend a work session with the city on Feb. 19.)

Aside from revenues, costs continue to increase, wrote Berkeley-Simmons, for city pensions, health care and other employee expenses. The baseline budget for the next fiscal year anticipates a 9% increase in medical premium costs, for example.

The city also will take a closer look at unfunded liabilities on Feb. 19. That report, which was requested by council in May 2012, will look at the preliminary cost estimates of capital improvements and major maintenance for city facilities in the next five years; assess current unfunded liabilities for streets; and include a summary of employee costs and an analysis of how the city could reach an 80% funded level for CalPERS pension plans over a 10-year versus a 15-year horizon.

Councilman Gordon Wozniak noted that the city is very good at managing year-to-year expenses, but might be able to improve its long-term planning goals for city finances. He added, however, that he isn’t sure “what the solution is.”

Councilman Laurie Capitelli said the city is going to have to look closely at its programs and that, eventually, it may make more sense to eliminate certain programs altogether rather than asking everyone to shave off small percentages year after year.

Councilman Darryl Moore concurred, calling the smaller cuts “torturous.”

“I’d rather eliminate an ineffective program,” he said. “I know it’s tough. I know no one on this dias wants to do that. But I just think that’s a smarter, more effective way than crippling other programs that we have going.”

Councilman Jesse Arreguín said it would be a challenge to come up with the proper criteria to determine which programs are ineffective.

“We need to consider all the factors when we make these decisions, including who are we serving,” he said.

The total projected revenue for the city in fiscal year 2013-14 is $150.4 million, with projected expenses of $153.4 million. The current projects assume no additional federal or state cuts; no funding for new programs; no additional funding for capital improvements; no new decreases in revenue; and no cost-of-living salary increases.

Mark your calendars

A session on Feb. 19 will focus on unfunded liabilities; a mid-year update for the current fiscal year; and the Housing and Community Services Division. On March 5, the focus will be on the Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department. Then, on March 19, the Public Works department, along with the capital improvement program for the parks department, will be explored.

On May 7, a presentation of the proposed budgets for the next two years is scheduled, followed by two public hearings (May 21 and a date to be determined). June 4 brings the budget recommendations from the council, and the budget is set to be adopted on June 25.

Related:
Berkeley General Fund revenues may fall short in 2012-13 [12.12.12]
Moody’s places Berkeley bonds under review
 [10.11.12]
Unfunded liabilities prompt initiative, Council resolution [05.15.12]
Berkeley faces difficult path to funding pension liabilities [02.16.12]
Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz: The exit interview [11.30.11]
City workers make sacrifices, help alleviate budget crisis [06.16.11]
Layoffs, fee increases proposed for 2012 budget [05.03.11]
Berkeley city salaries track neighbors closely [03.16.11]
City budget faces $1.8 million mid-year shortfall [02.15.11]
Council faces tough decisions on unfunded liabilities [01.19.11]
Berkeley auditor report shows $310m benefit debt [01.10.11]
Some Berkeley city offices to close two days a month [06.23.10]
Mayor Bates on tackling city’s worst deficit in years [06.17.10]

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  • Anon

    Please join me in calling each of the city council members mentioned above and demanding converting defined pensions to 401k, reducing medical benefits, and finally, tackling the big budget buster: our public safety personnel. We need to cut our firefighters and police pay or reduce their numbers.

  • Lotus

    Tax CAL !

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    Does the City really need it’s own Health Department? Most California cities do not have their own health departments.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    Good God, reduce their numbers or pay? That’s madness that will bring us closer to Oakland and Richmond problems.

    We need to increase the number of officers on the street. That’s one tax I’ll put my cash on the barrel head to pay for.

  • berkopinionator

    The City of Berkeley should start issuing tickets for the 5% of cars driving without headlights and/or tail lights. Do you remember the days when tickets were issued for burned out headlights?

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    a new tax on the ballot in November 2014 to help with the Parks Tax Fund

    That will go over like a lead balloon (or kite…). I can already say I’m voting NO! on that tax. Give the council more dollars to plug a hole and it won’t have to fix the underlying rot of bad fiscal policy.

    Back in 2008/9 I along with hundreds of thousands of others took a temporary pay cut & even with those measures layoffs were needed to get the ship back on an even keel. Berkeley has been trying to avoid the tough decisions for 4 years now. Time to get on the stick, get a backbone, make some cuts, go to court if necessary to change union contracts, and start showing some financial vision that goes beyond balancing a budget every year.

    Cut some departments completely. Eliminate the Health Dept. for starters! Slash the number of commissions in half (Peace and Justice should be top of that list since they do nothing to improve the livability of the city). Let’s get out the buzz saw and start cutting away the dead undergrowth in this municipal government that makes business unwelcome, job growth exceedingly difficult, crime welcome, and taxes high.

    It’s time for a paradigm shift in City Hall. Hop to it honorable Ladies and Gents of the council. Make the difficult decisions you’ve been elected to make and don’t look back. Instead, try keeping your focus on the future for a change rather than hanging onto the nonsensical concept that “this is Berkeley, we can’t do that here.”

    Think twice about cutting emergency responders though…remember, we are next to Oakland, we have gangs, we have too much crime, and we are going to need these people when the big quake hits.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Agreed about police. Firefighters-working-as-paramedics need reexamination. We can outsource paramedic services and save a lot of $$. We do not need to pay firefighter salaries and early retirement for that.

  • The Sharkey

    While reduction in Police would be madness, I think our Police officers could use a pay cut. They get paid more than Police in neighboring cities with similar crime rates.

    And I agree with Pragmatic about the Firefighters-working-as-paramedics being a problem. While it’s great to have the Fire Department there when we need them, 9 times out of 10 they seem to be responding to calls where an ambulance and 2 paramedics would be more appropriate than a fire truck.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    Hmmm. OK, I’m open to that discussion. I’ll also have to toss that one to my neighbor, a captain in SFFD that also has FF’s working at paramedics to see if there is something we aren’t considering.

    However, now more than ever is a time to think out of the box, so everything should be on the table!

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    Fair enough. I hate to suggest something that would spend more money that isn’t there, but it might be time to call in a neutral 3rd party auditor/consultant firm to look at how salary levels are set and recommend changes.

    I expect part of the issue is related to union contracts, which begs the question can these contracts be renegotiated in the interest of bringing the city back to financial health?

    It’s a bitter pill, but I swallowed it in 2001/2 and again in 2008/9, so I don’t have a lot of sympathy for government workers that are immune from the pain that the private sector goes through during recessions.

  • EBGuy

    Police START at $92.8k. They pay 9% of salary towards retirement (compared to FICA at 6.2% for the rest of us.) They don’t get social security, but instead receive 3% of salary for every year of service (and are eligible to retire at 50 — new hires eligible at 55).
    Based on this small but unfortunately realistic 4% return, an $80,000
    annual pension payout implies a rather large pot of money behind it–$2
    million, to be precise.
    Think about that as you try to fund your IRA and are asked to pay another parcel tax.

    The city held the line on COLA increases this past year in negotiations with the BPOA. That’s probably the easiest route going forward (with inflation then doing some of the heavy lifting.) Still we are left with every man, woman and child in Berkeley owing $5,000 for citywide pension obligations and benefits. Time to fill in another pool with mud.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    A shout out for Emilie Raguso

    Good article Emilie. It gives some good things to look at more closely and to discuss with neighbors and friends.

  • Woof

    We just spent over $12,000,000 in capital costs for an animal facility that cares for 2,000 dogs and cats a year. (Operating expenses, salaries and pensions not included). Dogs and cats now have better shelter than homeless people in Berkeley.

  • The Sharkey

    We need more officers anyway, so I wonder if the union could be convinced to agree to lower wages in exchange for an increase in the number of active officers. I would love to see a 10% increase in Police staffing, with some task forces on beats that are associated with specific problems (liquor stores, homeless issues) rather than geographic areas.

  • Bill N

    Darryl Moore has it right: “I’d rather eliminate an ineffective program,” he said. “I know it’s tough. I know no one on this dias wants to do that. But I just think that’s a smarter, more effective way than crippling other programs that we have going.” But this is the hardest thing. In my 28 years of budget experience I found that it was easy to say everybody has to cut 5% or 8% or 10% but to be effective you have to be able to stop doing something and take the big cut there. It’s better to stop the bleeding by cutting and entire program or department than make many departments less effective.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    I hear ya. I also hear the stories of police officers I know when they respond to situations that protect us, but put their lives at risk, and put their families at risk of losing a spouse, father, or mother.

    I am in favor of higher salaries for emergency responders because it is a career where they deserve some hazard pay. I always keep in mind that this is Berkeley, not Mayberry. Believe it or not, bad **** goes down at calls that BFD and BPD respond to.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    Hopefully you aren’t counting as homeless the ones discussed in Bside all of the time as making a lifestyle choice. Like the young “homeless” chick I stepped over yesterday on University while she was camped out on the sidewalk toking up from her glass pipe.

  • Guest

    Is there money allocated for the 2013 “How Berkeley can you be”
    Parade?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    GIve this a listen: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/12/18/167265874/episode-424-how-much-is-a-firefighter-worth Among other things, it discusses the transition from fighting fires to driving ambulances as building code improvements have brought down the overall number of fires.

    The argument for early retirement of firefighters is based on the physical strain of carrying 60 pounds of gear into a burning building. Ambulance drivers don’t have those same risks.

    I would also say, regarding early retirement, that there must be desk work that could be done by older staff.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Many cities also outsource garbage collection. We should do the same.

  • Guest

    Property Tax the stadium! The UC regents & Cal athletics have been selling pieces of property to private owners using a mortgage system called the ESP program. Berkeley and Alameda county should benefit.

  • bgal4

    Problem: the city has been promising performance audits for at least 15 years, yet there is little if any progress to date, without the supporting data funding continues to be politically driven.

  • Biker 94703

    6% of the deficit is due to the $300k retirement payouts to the ex-city manager who now lives a life of luxury in Piedmont. I suspect his healthcare is pretty good too. Doesn’t this seem excessive?

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    I follow your line of thought and I do not discount it. Unfortunately I also can’t get out of my head an instance when my neighbor’s team responded to a call for paramedics, blood was everywhere, a woman was dead, and the assailant came back with a knife. Police weren’t there yet. The paramedic was forced to defend himself without a gun. Not a burning building, but emergency responder calls “are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.”

  • 3millionwasteiseasytofind

    How much did we pay city staff to work on measures T and S, both of which failed and are now sunk costs with no return? Or the failed pools measures? Is this the kind of legal, planning and development expenditure we are funding going forward? How much have we so far payed city staff in connection to the court cases about 2707 Rose? What new business revenue has the Office of Economic Development managed to generate with its spending on things like real estate listings and Buy Local Berkeley? Could all those funds have been spent in ways that do a better job of increasing Berkeley’s revenue from business fees and taxes? Some of Berkeley’s liabilities (such as our roads and sewers) and losses (such our pools) are the result of deferring infrastructure maintenance and improvement in order to fund these other failed “priorities” imposed mainly by the current council majority.

    Also missing from the discussion is concern for the structural implications of Berkeley’s revenue balance. Berkeley’s property taxes are about average for the nation, slightly high for the region as fractions of property values and resident incomes so we should not project real growth here without assuming a real estate bubble. Our largest individual taxpayer, Bayer, has explained that their style of high-tech business is only viable here if they are given large tax breaks by the state and those particular (enterprise zone) breaks are in danger of repeal at the state level. Our largest non-taxed employer, UC, is apparently eager to take more real property off the tax rolls. Berkeley relies heavily on transfers from the state and federal government and even the current projected deficit is based on the assumption that those transfers won’t be reduced. Have we any fiscal plan for Berkeley that does not assume sustained levels municipal welfare and/or a renewed real estate bubble?

  • AlbanyMike

    Pragmatic…I was going to become a fire fighter but decided against it. And here is why. For a school assignment I went to a couple of depts in my area and even did a ride along to see what it was like and I decided it was not for me. How many times do you carry a 180 – 260 lb. person down 2 or three flights of stairs? The BFD can run over 30 calls of service per day. Just because you think that there are not as many fires the fire fighters still do heavy lifting of people and equipment everyday. Tell you what why don’t you grab 50 lbs of gear which is I would say is equivalent to all the medical gear they carry (lifting chairs, drug bags, first aid bags, heart monitoring equipment and oxygen tanks) and take that stuff up and down 4 flights of stairs 10 times a day. Maybe even wake up at 1 am and do it once and then do that again at say 5 am too and don’t forget about the stress of having to make lifesaving decisions or having to see someones brains all over the wall because they were just shot in the head. Now think about doing that for 25 to 30 years of your life on a 56 hour work week which is what fire fighters work. Not everyone can do that. Before you say lets cut the fire fighters here and there and lets change what they do here and there really investigate what they to first and they service they provide. I was very impressed with the service that all fire fighters do and the professionalism they provide. I wish I could do what they could do but I just cant………..

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Meanwhile, the chief of BFD just retired at age 50 (or was it 51?). We’ll be paying her $170,000 a year for the rest of her life.

    When do you think the last time she carried 50 pounds up four flights of stairs was? How do you justify early retirement in her case?

    To your point, yes, let’s investigate what they do and see what cheaper alternatives exist. Many MANY cities use private paramedic services and do just fine.

    I’m also very skeptical that BFD “carries a 180-260 lb person down 2 or three flights of stairs” more than once in a very great while. They have all kinds of equipment — I’ve seen it in action — for moving people down stairs without having to bodily lift them.

    Let’s have a full and candid disclosure of the work these folks do and leave out the hero worship. It’s a job and while they deserve fair pay, the compensation should match the actual job requirements.

  • EBGuy

    Not to mention ObamaCare making healthcare available to all our citizens. At least that’s my impression; I’d be interested in comments from any healthcare policy wonks.

  • EBGuy

    Without a doubt, police work can be quite stressful, which can have negative health effects. At the same time, you’re more likely to die on the job if you’re a roofer, fishermen, logger, truck driver, or even a sanitation worker. Hmmm… I guess those other professions didn’t have Gray Davis in their corner.

  • Lotus

    Get rid of all non essential office personnel ( all of them), including the mayor! Bring back the ice rink , parades and the dispensaries!!

  • Steven

    ..

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    Speaking as a former UCD student that drove trucks one summer that were loaded down with 80,000 lbs of tomatoes, followed by stints as a trucking operations supervisor, trucking terminal manager, and internal auditor at 3 nationwide less-than-truckload (LTL) freight companies, I take issue with your very flawed assumptions.

    Sitting in a truck, never exercising, eating junk food, and smoking cigarettes will definitely put you at risk of dying on the job. However, that’s a world apart from putting on body armor everyday before you go to work so you have a better chance at survival if someone tries to kill you.

    Get real EBGuy. You are comparing Apples and oranges and you know it. One profession deserves hazard pay, they other requires OSHA oversight. Dont try to confuse the two.

  • Hyper_lexic

    thanks for the article. it would be great if somehow Berkeleyside could dig a little deeper. A couple of obvious questions come to mind… notably, what are the changes over multiple years – e.g., which areas of expenditure have grown the most in the last 5 years, what areas of income have dropped the most?

  • Berkeley Councilmaven

    All these cuts are necessary even without providing one additional cent for $500 million in unfunded infrastructure needs, or shoring up the city’s under-funded emergency reserve fund, or adequately addressing various employee-related unfunded “obligations” like vacation pay, accrued overtime, retiree health care costs, etc. The problem is far bigger than a “mere” $5 million shortfall! Watch out taxpayers!

  • AlbanyMike

    So what would you want if you were a fire fighter Pragmatic? What do you want when you retire?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    One thing I feel very strongly about is this: the practice of furloughing city workers and shuttering offices on Fridays needs to end. These cuts aren’t a short term measure and we need a structural change in services, not a cosmetic one. Functions that are worth keeping should be available for a full work week. If that means reduced numbers of city workers who have to work harder to handle the load, that’s what it means. (This is certainly how it works in the private sector). But reducing service to residents in order to keep as many employees on as possible is entirely wrong headed.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    We shouldn’t compensate people as though they’ll be incapable of doing any other work once they are no longer up to the task of fighting fires. If someone is permanently injured in the line of duty, that’s a different story.

    Second and third (and fourth) careers are a reality for most Americans who are paid for their labor. And if you read the firefighter discussion groups, you’ll find that many of these guys already hold second jobs on the side. Some leverage their FF skills — being a roofer makes sense for someone comfortable on ladders; fire inspection; servicing fire extinguishers, etc. Others work as hospital medics, drive private ambulances, drive trucks — again, leveraging skills learned at the firehouse — or go into teaching either in schools or recreationally, as in the former search and rescue guy who teaches scuba.

    One lieutenant says he tends bar: “I can watch all the sports I want, Eat whatever want, and it’s all CASH Money baby !!!! It’s almost like being at the firehouse.”

  • albanymike

    You didn’t answer the question. If YOU were a fire fighter what would you want? What would YOU want your retirement to be? And wow you are going back to 12 years to read a firefighter discussion group. Do you think that every firefighter is doing this? Do you know what their financial situation is? How many people do you know who have second jobs that are not fire fighters? I know a ton of them. They do it to make ends meet, to help raise money for their kids education. Looks to me you just hate firefighters. You seem to think that they are greedy money hungry people. Do you go to baseball games? Its not like they are pitchers for a baseball team who play every five days and make millions of dollars doing so just to throw a little white ball. They work hard for their money, see a side of life you wouldn’t wouldn’t see in 20 lifetimes (assuming that you work). How many pro athletes do you see at the age of 50. None.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Your question and assumptions are poorly framed. This is a policy and specifically a budgetary matter. What I would do were I a firefighter is irrelevant as are my supposed feelings about firefighters as a group.

    In point of fact, firefighters have been vey effective at lobbying for themselves, positioning their departments as paramedics as a hedge against the declining need for their services as people who fight fires.

    Our budgetary considerations need to reevaluate this configuration. What are we paying? What are we getting? What are the cheaper alternatives? You will notice that, elsewhere in this thread, I have called for the total outsourcing of garbage collection and elimination of unnecessary commissions and departments for the same reasons. I note that you, Mike, are silent on those matters, which leads me to conclude that you’re holding back on us: do you have a financial interest in th way firefighters have expanded their claim to public money even as the number of fires has declined?

    It is possible to appreciate the work of public servants without blinding ourselves to economic alternatives that we must finally confront.

  • David

    Thank you Emilie for a factual article that sheds light on a continuing budget
    problem, your unbiased reporting is appreciated.

    I would caution against proposing drastic cuts, outsourcing and significant
    changes to benefits for public safety workers until you really are able to
    understand the complexity of modern day emergency response. If anything,
    according to national standard, the fire department is just at minimal, or just
    below minimal staffing (See NFPA 1704).

    Let me provide a little background:

    Why do fire engines and ambulances respond to medical emergencies: #1 – fire
    stations are strategically located so they can respond to any home within 4-5
    minutes, 90% of the time. This is a national standard for response to structure
    fires. As our construction techniques produced more airtight homes and our
    furnishings became synthetic, the rate at which a fire grows (and spreads) through
    a structure has changed dramatically. Open youtube and type in “New vs Old Room
    Fire Final UL” for an eye opening experiment conducted by NIST.

    As the demand for emergency medical services grew over the past 30-40 years,
    rather than positioning a separate piece of apparatus (an ambulance) in every
    fire station in America, it made sense to provide training and equipment to
    firefighters who were already working 24/7 and positioned to arrive at any home
    in most urban areas within 4-5 minutes to these calls for help. This strategy
    effectively “stops the clock” and allows fire crews to provide life saving
    interventions before the ambulance arrives. In essence, we want to get
    paramedics (ALS care) to a patient’s side ASAP, but again, within 4 minutes is
    a standard. There are plenty of examples of why seconds count in life
    threatening situations.

    In Berkeley we have seven fire stations, only three of them have ambulances.
    The difference in response time from when a fire engine arrives at your home,
    to when an ambulance arrives at your home is approx 2:30 seconds! Are you sure
    you want to strip firefighters of their paramedic skills and equipment and wait
    an average of 2:30 longer for medical assistance?

    Why does Berkeley send five people (3 on the engine, 2 on the ambulance) to the
    scene of a medical emergency? #1 – As stated above, the engine is dispatched
    and usually arrives first with three crewmembers. They can’t separate or leave
    the engine and take a smaller vehicle, because a variety of calls can break out
    at any time that require the response of all three crewmembers from the scene
    of another emergency. #2 – The ambulance arrives with two crewmembers. You
    can’t do it with any less; one to attend to the patient and one to drive. #3 –
    Multiple times a day there are situations that require all five personnel;
    these include larger patients (which are more and more abundant), complex
    scenes and anytime treatment is necessary on scene, in someone’s home. Each crewmember
    on scene has specific duties that they are assigned. If you reduce the number
    of personnel on scene, the time it takes to I complete an assessment, interventions,
    and extrication of the patient increases, which impacts patient care.

    Pensions – Your position on public pensions is really based on your values. I
    strongly support creating a universal, sustainable pension system that provides
    a livable wage to retirees. Is it true that public employee retirement systems
    took a bath during the recession, heck yeah! Several points: #1 – blaming public
    employees is shameful. Our elected leaders negotiated pension plans with our
    employees fair and square, if you don’t like how they govern, do something
    about it. #2 – All this anger should be focused toward the real bandits in this
    situation, corporate America. Many of these folks are straight up crooks. They line
    their pockets and give the shaft to all their employees every chance they get. If
    you’re worried about our CM or Fire Chief’s salary in retirement, how bout
    taking a look at the private sector, its far more egregious. #3 – The state has
    passed pension reform that took effect this January for all new employees. The
    law increased retirement age to 56 for public safety (which gives me concern
    about increasing workers comp costs if we keep FFs longer, there is actually a
    reason the retirement age was set at 50……bodies and minds fatigue when
    you’re on the job for 30 years), it stops pension spiking and it decreased the
    annual multiplier to 2.5% (I believe). #4 – When looking at “unfunded
    liabilities” its critical not to look at the total we owe over a period of
    time without considering the revenue that is paid in to the system. Yes, if you
    look at what we will pay out to public employees over the next 10, 20 or 30
    years, the number is large. This figure is offset by the revenue (investment
    returns and employer/employee contributions). Don’t forget that Berkeley
    firefighters have; taken two years with no raises in the heart of the economic
    boom to offset the costs of the enhanced retirement system, two additional
    years with zero raises and no other enhancements to salary or benefits
    (2010-2011) and were one of the first departments in the area to pay 9% of
    their salary towards the benefit. The police just negotiated an increase of 3%
    so they will be paying a total of 12% of salary towards their retirement.

    Final thoughts; the middle class in America should rise up, demand that private
    corporations stop union busting and allow them to negotiate fair wages, working
    conditions and a secure retirement for every American who puts in a career of
    labor. Let us stop tearing each other apart. Want to read a
    good book about the role of unions, corporations and Government in America that
    is truly eye opening? Check out “There is power in a Union” – Dray.

    I absolutely oppose, as do a super-majority of Berkeley residents the gauging
    of our fire department. They are a valuable, hard-working and dedicated bunch
    of men and women who provide what is in my opinion, an excellent service that
    is equivalent to, if not better than any department in the area.

    I support trimming the budget, I am generally opposed to finding “ticky-tack”
    ways to “enhance” revenue (higher meter fees, etc)., lets work to get
    rid of Ca Prop 13 which is the root of allot of the problem, curtain any new
    spending (for real) and remember that our property taxes (which by the way are
    in line with Oakland and Albany’s) are supposed to FIRST pay for Fire, Police
    and Public Works, essential city services. Once these programs are funded, then
    lets provide our citizens the ability to fund extra-curricular services.

    There is much more to discuss on topics as important as emergency response, but
    my fingers are growing weary.

    David
    (A proud Berkeley FF and Berkeley Tax Payer)

  • David

    These comments are directed to some of the other folks commenting on the article and not the author, whom did a nice job of framing the problem. Just clarifying.

  • Boalted

    Step 1 is, and will always be, an outside performance audit by a nationally recognized firm specializing in city management assessment.

    We taxpayers are blind without one. And the city council will continue feigning deafness until it hears the truth blasted from a source unaffiliated with our turf wars.

    Google: city performance audits

  • The Sharkey

    Seems like Berkeley’s Health Department would be redundant. Aren’t we already covered by the Alameda County Public Health Department?

    http://www.acphd.org/

  • The Sharkey

    No surprise that a Berkeley Firefighter thinks that cuts to the Berkeley Fire Department are a terrible idea. No matter how much I was paid, I’m sure I would think it was a terrible idea to cut my own salary too.

    A lot of what you said was interesting information, but you lost me as soon as you said we should get rid of Prop 13 and drive up property taxes for all Berkeley homeowners just so you can avoid a 5% pay cut and still get to retire with a full pension when you hit 50.

  • EBGuy

    Speaking of OSHA, according to this article: at least 42% of police officers killed in vehicle crashes over the past
    three decades were not wearing seat belts or other safety restraints,
    according to a federal review.

    I’m still not sure about the hazard pay argument (though my gut says that pay scale differences between urban and suburban environments speaks to this point). The fact remains, though, that you’re more likely to be killed on the job if you’re a roofer. I think police work, though, is more demanding in many ways and takes a special skill set — that’s why they’re compensated more.

    As I’ve pointed out on other threads, Berkeley police make more than their counterparts in Oakland and Richmond. If there weren’t these premiums being paid out (I know which city I would choose to work in), Berkeley would be close to a balanced budget.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    If there weren’t these premiums being paid out (I know which city I would choose to work in)

    Crime doesn’t stop at the Oakland border. Since I’ve been in my W. Berkeley neighborhood, I’ve seen OPD raid an apartment (helicopter and all) on my block (without getting specific, between Dwight & University) and Fremont PD has had a stakeout here looking for a bad guy.

    We’ve also had Oakland gang members come down there with AK-47’s to kill Charles Davis at Allston & 10th, BPD has recovered a Tec-9 on my block after we called them about shots fired…

    I think you are underestimating the poop BPD has to deal with. It’s not Oakland, but it certainly is Oakland, Richmond, & other bay area city criminal overflow combined with our own brand of scum bags tossed in the mix.

    The good thing that I always year about BPD is that the education level of the typical officer is higher than in many local law enforcement departments. That’s a good thing. It means they’ve been trained in analytical thought for longer than someone with a community college degree that goes into law enforcement. I also know there are officers that are active military reserve. All of that experience they bring back to our community and we benefit from it.

    Berkeley may be a basket case, but do you REALLY think it’s a good idea to use Oakland and Richmond as two case studies in law enforcement best practices? Think about it and get back to me!

  • EBGuy

    Follow the money: contributed $250 to Sophie Hahn’s campaign. Also Berkeley Fire Fighters Association Local 1227 PAC, an independent expenditure committee, spent over $6,000 on yard signs and mailers supporting Sophie Hahn. As they say, your tax dollars at work.

  • David

    Totally agreed.

  • EBGuy

    I was under the impression that a BS conferred a premium to the normal salary steps. Looking at the current MOU, though, the only salary premium for educational attainment that I see is for POST intermediate and advanced certificates.
    Okay, I just checked Richmond’s MOU and they offer Supplemental Pay for Attainment of Educational degrees (AA, BA, Masters and, of course, POST certs).

    I feel you’re putting words in my mouth regarding the difficulty of policing in Berkeley. Yes, this is an urban environment with impoverished areas. As a recruit, though, looking at the historic problems that have faced Richmond and Oakland, I would be more likely to want to work in Berkeley. You see the need to offer a higher salary to get the best recruits. I am not so sure.

  • EBGuy

    The police just negotiated an increase of 3%
    so they will be paying a total of 12% of salary towards their retirement.

    Just to clarify, according to the MOU, the full 12% (9% normal + 3% extra) kicks in July 1, 2013. The extra 3% SUNSETS one year later June 30, 2014.