Oct 25 2012

OPINION: Reasons to Support Measure Y

Vice Mayor Fujioka Describes City Actions –

As a member of the Piedmont City Council since 2008, I have tried to be a voice of reason and to act in the best interests of our entire community. Recently, we have witnessed a spirited discussion about whether the Municipal Services Tax (Measure Y) should be renewed. I am concerned that the “big picture” (the City’s fiscal health) has been lost in the heat of the moment. Vocally opposing Measure Y are Ryan Gilbert and Tim Rood, both of whom I ran against in 2008 and 2012, respectively, in two of the most hotly contested races in recent Piedmont history. From those two campaigns, I know we share an interest in strengthening the City’s financial condition. The most fiscally responsible means to that end is to pass Measure Y. Here are some important facts that I hope will be useful in making an informed choice.

The City’s successful negotiations with labor unions resulted in recently executed contracts without costly litigation or disruptive labor strikes. Negotiations with the firefighters’ union were difficult and protracted. They took over one year, went to impasse, and a state mediator was brought in because the City held firm in its demand for concessions. Labor contracts cannot be changed overnight or unilaterally. They must be negotiated within legal constraints of confidentiality and good faith bargaining which was done.

The City froze employee salaries for the 4th straight year, increased employees’ contributions to pensions, and instituted a two-tier system where new hires receive reduced pension benefits. As the Council begins negotiations for the next round of labor contracts, we will continue to work hard to reduce pension and benefit costs.

The City Council has made fiscally responsible decisions that saved the City hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Council voted to eliminate two positions which saved over $400,000 per year. It voted to share the City’s fire chief with the City of Albany for a savings of approximately $140,000 per year. It approved contracts with the City Clerk and Public Works Director that saved $60,000. It established a 5 year fiscal plan and created a Budget Advisory Committee which recommended renewal of the parcel tax. The City took over management of the pool and realized a surplus of over $31,000 in 2011-12. If sales of passes continue on the same trajectory, the City will break even or realize a modest surplus in 2012-13.

Renewal of the parcel tax will generate approximately $1.63 million per year or over $6.5 million over 4 years. These funds pay for our police, fire, and paramedic services, maintenance of streets, sidewalks, parks, playgrounds, and public buildings. The revenue supports other services that make Piedmont safer, including the City’s new Email Alert System, crossing guards for our school children, traffic studies, and public education on crime prevention and disaster preparation.

The revenues from the parcel tax will stave off painful cuts. This is not a “scare tactic.” It is arithmetic. The City cannot sustain the loss of $6.5 million in revenue over 4 years without cuts. If Measure Y fails, cuts could come from our facilities (pool, civic buildings) and equipment (ambulance, fire trucks) replacement funds which the Municipal Tax Review Committee strongly recommended be funded. Maintenance of public spaces may be reduced and library services eliminated.

If you think the tenor of our public dialogue has deteriorated over Measure Y, imagine the rancor that will occur when citizens are pitted against each other to save their favorite service or program.

Engaging in public discourse on the City’s spending priorities is healthy for our community, but denying it an essential source of revenue is not. I urge you to vote “yes” on Measure Y.

Margaret Fujioka
Vice Mayor

Editors’ Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.  The Piedmont Civic Association does not support or oppose candidates or ballot measures.

6 Responses to “OPINION: Reasons to Support Measure Y”

  1. Margaret

    I always felt I was running against Dean, not you. Remember, it was 3 candidates for 2 seats 🙂

    I do agree that we “share an interest in strengthening the City’s financial condition.”

    At the moment, we disagree about whether or not Measure Y is the fix for Piedmont’s financial challenges.

    You no doubt share my faith in Piedmont’s electorate. We’ll leave it to them to consider all the arguments and vote on November 6.



  2. Stating the City froze salaries is only part of the equation of the lavish total compensation packages taxpayers are paying for. Our compensation plan is so generous that a recent Piedmont Police Chief retired at an initial monthly pension of $18,918, 28% more than the final monthly salary of $14,791. The two-tier system for new hires will have no affect on costs for many years unless real cost sharing is implemented for current employees.

    I find it odd Vice-Mayor Fujioka would say the pool is on the chopping block if the parcel tax fails. After all, City Hall has repeatedly stated the pool will require no subsidy so it should be unaffected by the tax. Unless it actually will require a taxpayer subsidy.

    Now ambulances are threatened. Yet a week ago Mayor Chiang was cited in the Piedmonter that “public safety services will be preserved.”

  3. I second Margaret’s point that voters make an informed choice in the upcoming election and would like to elaborate on some of the important facts she mentions in her piece.

    Ryan and Tim are vocally opposed to Measure Y but do so not as candidates but as experienced City volunteers. Ryan served on the 2011 Municipal Tax Review Committee and Tim on the 2012 Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee.

    The City’s short-term fiscal health is excellent – several millions in reserve, rising tax revenues – but the city’s long-term health is less so. The City has accumulated $40M in unfunded pension/benefit liability to past and existing employees and it is coming due soon – 40 of 92 employees are expected to retire in the next 5-10 years, many at nearly full salary. Actions taken by the Council to date have mostly been related to future employees and have had no impact on the $40M.

    The City has taken steps to control expenses, though MTRC and BAC 5-year projections show very different results, one red, the other black. The Council did not eliminate two positions but has simply chosen not to fill them. The 2011-2012 pool surplus is based on two years of revenues and one year of operations. That model won’t work going forward and staff has indicated the need for a new position and capital improvements at mid-year. Even with all this, expenses did exceed revenues in the 2012-2013 budget.

    The City is unlikely to sustain a loss of $6.5M without Measure Y. That assumes not renewing the parcel tax for another 4 years. The last time a parcel tax was not approved in Piedmont, a revised parcel tax was approved within 9 months.

    The City just bought a new ambulance and fire truck in 2012. A new ambulance is not slated for purchase until 2018. A new ladder truck ($0.9M) is slated for 2013.

    Public debate on Measure Y has been spirited but not over spending priorities. Management of city resources and unsustainable spending is the source of the debate and residents should focus their attention on how to fix these bigger problems rather than short-term spending.

  4. Just so that we all understand the plan of the opponents of Measure Y, is it to defeat the renewal of the parcel tax now, but reinstate it in a year or so after they have “punished” the city council. That seems to be what they, and you in this comment, are saying. How on earth does that make sense?

  5. Well, after all, the opponents are the Taliban . . . .

    I wouldn’t use the term “punish.” How about “knock some common sense into”?

  6. “punished”? I know of no statement from opponents stating that is their intent. My comment simply elaborates on facts Margaret cites in her piece.

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