As we turn into 2013, apparently unscathed by the dire predictions from the Mayan Calender, it is time to set priorities for the Concord City Council in administrating how Contra Costa’s largest city is to be guided.
Of course the first thing to be considered is finding a permanent City Manager to replace long gone Dan Keene. While myself and many others have advocated the hiring of interim City Manager Valerie Barone, it is first necessary for to take due diligence and interviewing a short list of qualified candidates. The sooner this process be completed the better.
Once the permanent city manager is on board, priorities need to be determined on how the budget is to be handled in the years ahead. Going back to when Ed James was Concord’s City Manager, an excellent job has been done in planning for the future. The biggest problem today is how to fund Concord’s budget at a time when the State of California has reduced revenues for municipalities while at the same time asking them to provide more services. Don’t expect this legalized “highway robbery” to end soon.
Of particular concern are Measure Q revenue (.50 extra sales tax passed in 2010) , which along with severe cuts in non law enforcement services, have been the major building blocks of the City Council balancing the budget the last couple of years. It would appear Measure Q funds, which will flow for the next three and half years until it expires, will be able to maintain the status quo to keep Concord’s fiscal ship afloat.
In making this projection we are assuming:
1. Projected revenues and the rate of inflation will be relatively steady
2. The 42% of the budget spent on non law-enforcement expenditures will hold steady with cost cutting furlough days, and fewer city services, helping to make ends meet.
3. Law enforcement expenditures including salaries, benefit and equipment used to fund the police department will remain constant. Making law enforcement first has been the priority of past City Councils and we presume this will be the policy in the future.
Whether this formula is to maintained or changed, its implementation will be one of the first major decisions the new City Council will make in 2013. This is why November’s political campaign was so contentious with the Concord Police Officers Association (POA) being so aggressive in trying to elect their chosen candidates. Even so, newly elected councilman Edi Birsan was voted into office without their support. Still, the POA will no doubt use their considerable clout to protect the pay and benefit packages of its members.
Despite less than gentle lobbying being applied by the POA and their supporters, there is a growing realization in the community that the past generous packages given police are not sustainable especially with respect to unfunded mandates for life time pension and medical benefits received after 20 years of service. There is also a matter of double dipping where a retired officer can go to work for another department and collect a second pension with the new job.
Thus far only minor concessions for new hires have been made to rectify the benefits given Concord;s Police force in previous contracts. This may change when the new agreement is negotiated between the City and police force in 2014. One might ask why would the police give away any benefits earned in previous contracts? The answer is Vallejo, Stockton, and San Bernardino; all of whom recently declared bankruptcy and were able to reorganize their debt services including money owed to their retired employees.
Obviously, Concord would not want to put themselves in this position because if the city declares bankruptcy, its credit rating would be ruined, cost of borrowing would sky-rocket and costs for goods and services would go up as well. Even worse, it would take years for a bankrupt city to fully recover.
Which brings us to the choices Concord has to keep the government financially sound in the days ahead. Of course it is hoped that the economy will improve and tax revenues increase to boost the cities revenues. Were this the case, furlough’s for city workers would be averted and there would be less stress on keeping law enforcement expenditures down. But unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball to view future revenues, thus should probably plan for the worse.
With uncertain economic times projected in the coming decade, the big elephant in the closet” is what occurs when Measure Q revenues expire in 2016″ Will it be necessary to go back to the voters for an extension or will be City Council be able to balance the budget without the extra 9-10 million it currently receives from the temporary tax?
The choice of making do or asking for additional sales tax revenue from voters is not an easy one. Sales taxes, as we know, are not progressive, effect the poorest members of society the most, nor are they good for the local economy. Even though Measure Q allocated funds appear to be well spent, they are still a “job killer” and a “Pay Peter to Pay Paul” proposition at best.
Whatever the new Concord City Council does in their next term, their job performance will be more scrutinized than ever. With many of the areas citizens out of work or struggling to make ends meet, there will be little toleration for extravagant spending by local government. At the same time, these same people don’t want their public servants earning considerably more recuperations than the “average Joe” in Concord brings in.
Thus we facing a political future that can be characterized in the American Dreamer sound tract, “Everybody wants a piece of your birthday cake. Fingers in the frosting, everyone wants a taste. If you give an arm you can bet they’re going to take a leg. Living in this world is living on a powder keg.” Good luck in 2013.
~ A resident of Concord, CA, Richard Eber is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit USA Inc, an international shipping company also based in Concord, CA. He serves on the City of Concord’s Measure Q Committee. His views expressed here are his own and not those of the Measure Q Committee on which he serves.