RICHMOND- Police, firefighter and service union members turned
out in force to berate the City Council on Tuesday night for severing
jobs and services to bridge a $10 million deficit, warning the cuts
will hobble the community -- and lamenting their voices are not
"We want input on the kind of cuts being made," said Jim Russey,
president of the firefighters union. "Richmond spends more on its
administration than on public safety."
At issue is a yawning budget gap created, according to City Manager
Isiah Turner, by skyrocketing health care and pension costs. Turner
has been meeting with the city's six employee bargaining units to
request they take on some of those costs.
But the talks did not bear fruit, and the council approved sweeping
cuts slated to go into effect in January. More than 100 employees
were handed pink slips. Library hours will narrow to a few. Although
officials had weighed shuttering the Point Richmond fire station,
they instead opted to rotate closures of four other fire stations
one day a week.
"I think a lot of what is going on is posturing," Councilman Tom
Butt said. "(Public safety unions) are going to end up giving some
things up, but they won't do it until the last minute. In the meantime,
they're playing to public opinion."
Although numerous speakers blasted the city for paying its administrators
more than its public safety personnel, member of the fire and police
departments pull down some of the city's highest salaries, according
to a roster of the 100 highest-paid employees compiled by the finance
A retiring police captain who took home more than $281,000 last
year in pay and cashed out time off -- $100,000 more than the city
manager's pay -- headed up the list. The salaries added up to $12.5
million last year.
The roster was compiled using W-2 tax forms. The amounts reflect
only cash paid, including hefty amounts of overtime pay for rank-and-file,
vacation and retirement lump-sum payouts, but not benefits.
With only two exceptions, the port director and director of the
Richmond Public Housing Authority, the salaries are paid from the
city's $94 million General Fund.
Ranking just under the city manager, at more than $175,000, is
a fire captain, followed by a battalion chief at $168,000. At $132,000
a police officer earned only $50 less than an assistant city manager.
Of the top 100, 45 worked for the police department and 33 for
the fire department.
"If they don't cost share we've got to implement this plan," Councilman
Gary Bell said. "What's disappointing is we don't engage with the
people who are being effected: the community, the employees. It
was a top-down thing, and that's what these people are feeling.
I think that's the message we are missing."
In fact, some union rank-and-file members said while their representatives
may not budge in negotiations with city management, they are willing
to hash out a solution.
"If you talk to us, the people in the trenches, you'll realize
we are willing to give things up, to sharpen our pencils and tighten
our belts," said SEIU member Linda McPhee.
Finance department reports show revenues are missing the marks
projected in the $94 million 2003-2004 budget. Sales taxes, projected
to remain flat, have plunged $500,000. The utility users tax, which
voters raised through Measure J in November 2002, is generating
a fraction of what was anticipated.
In addition, ChevronTexaco has refused to ante up its projected
utility user tax increase, roughly $1.2 million, and there have
been delays in selling city-owned property for development, Butt
Richmond is facing soaring co-payments to CalPERS, the state's
pension and benefit agency. The city, which paid $600,000 to CalPERS
in the 2002-03 fiscal year, must hand over $7.6 million this fiscal
year, and faces a bill for $13 million in the 2004-05 fiscal year.
In 2002, the city granted its police a retirement benefit that
allows officers to quit at age 50 and continue to receive a hefty
portion of their top earnings from CalPERS. Other city workers were
granted a lesser retirement package starting at age 55.
The benefits prompted many eligible employees to bolt, racking
up costs of $6 million in the first year. Overtime costs escalated
as departments struggled to bridge the personnel gap.
"When the City Council adopted new pension plans last year, we
had an opportunity to build in inflationary controls with cost sharing,
but we didn't," Butt said.