The collection of Mayors from the major cities of Contra Costa hosted a presentation on the New Normal, with a panel made up of Dan Keen -City Manager of Concord, Donna Landeros-City Manager of Brentwood, and David Twa the County Administrator. Assertions offered by the panel included:
1. The last three years have been unprecedented in their experiences in government (three decades on average).
2. Brentwood had to establish a response early in the economic crisis because of its heavy involvement with development which in retrospect allowed them to be ahead of the curve in that they were already in cut and reduction mode as the recession took hold. Brentwood had to develop a multi year budget plan when none had existed before Ms. Landeros’s tenure.
3. Concord’s long history of 10 year budgeting laid the foundation as a tool as well as a mentality to take on the tasks of meeting the challenges of the recession.
4. The panel stressed the importance of creditability with the electorate, the staff and the electeds as a key in dealing with things. David Twa had an interesting perspective that when they had to cut 800 positions and it resulted in only 28 lay offs there was a significant creditability problem because the positions eliminated were already vacant or in the midst of retirement.
5. Everyone is aware that the problems in the system are the Pensions, Other Post Employment Benefits, typically Health Care.
6. The county is paying 81 cents in benefits for every $1 in wages.
7. What the recession has done is to force people (those in government and out) to face the question of: “what are their Core Services?”
8. The County gets half of its General Fund from the State and the Federal Government.
9. Dan Keen and the others echoed the position that the cities have to work together. The County Library system was held up as an example of the inter-cooperation of cities and the county to make cross jurisdictional issues go away. Dan Keen said that the cities cannot continue to tackle problems isolated with their own separate funding sources. Part of the “New Normal”, as the current stressed out government services is being called, may be the expansion of networking amongst the cities and counties in a real manner to reduce costs.10. The problem of retirements at the rate of 3% per year and retirement at 50 was repeatedly brought up. David Twa said that the retirement age needs to go later. Donna Landeros commented that when she was 22 the City’s retirement program looked fine. She also made clear that part of the problem with Pensions is that people are living longer, healthier, and starting second families and careers. Twa pointed out that people are not really retiring but are collecting the retirement and getting other jobs. Twa stated that a child born today is expected to live till he is 100 and that a retirement at 50 is an unattainable concept financially to work for 30 years and then not work for 50.
11. They all made a comment that the good side of the downturn is that it has forced everyone to face the realities of what has happened: that the past decisions are unsustainable.
12. The future workforce is expected to be very different in mentality from the current work force. Dan Keen in particular was focusing on this and praising the dedication and the loyalty to the community of the current work force. He sees a major challenge to get a new generation to value a career in government service. He also stated that he reminds the work force of how valued that they are and that the community has a great trust in the staff as indicated by the survey’s on service that the city runs.
13. The question of the conflict in the strategies of using Early Retirement to reduce the work force and the concept of raising the Retirement Age was brought up by Mayor Laura Hoffmeister. The panel responded in different ways. David Twa took the position that the early retirement plans were not effective on a cost basis since the positions were in many cases refilled by necessity (left unsaid was whether they were filled with contract labor or new hires or promotions). Donna Landeros said that in her city they did not give any incentives of any substantial cash wise to retire and felt that the short term gains were not offset by long term problems.
14. Mayor Wilson of San Ramon asked a question about the public’s understanding of unfunded mandates and it got an unexpected response from David Twa. David said that the mandates would probably be services that the County/Cities would provide anyway but maybe in a different form.
15. The public’s perception was touched on with David Twa saying that people’s expectations of government is so low that by simply doing the basics of their job – he mentioned that for example when he calls back to follow up on a message complaint- that the people are very happy if not stunned that people are doing something.
16. Brentwood works with the school district on mixed uses of property and has helped in construction costs melding some of the perceptions of schools and the city to the benefit of the city. Unsaid was the potential problems of such an association where the school district is under public attack such as in the case of the Mount Diablo School District.
17. On the future there were some interesting aspects with Twa talking about technology as a means to replace people using the example of the Watson IBM machine on a game show to answer questions. He gave a stunning example that by giving each of the supervisors an Ipad to handle the Agenda and the support items, they had saved enough in paper costs over 3 months to pay for the Ipads at 7-800 dollars each. Apparently there were 1000 plus pages of stuff on the agenda. Donna Landeros said that they had already eliminated all employees from the Parks Department and uses outside contractors.
18. On surprises in the budget crisis, Dan Keen used the example of the Senior Club coming up with the money to fund keeping the Senior Center open as one of the more pleasant surprises.
Aside from the presentation covered above, there were the comments about Sacramento taking money from the cities and the news that the Re-Development Agency elimination is proceeding having come out of committee on a party line vote. Susan Bonilla was present and made a short talk about trying to find alternatives to the RDA. No one asked her directly if she was voting for the elimination. However she did mention the need to ‘support our Governor’.
The City Mayors had prepared a letter with financial information to show that the prospects of getting 1.7 billion dollars from the elimination of the RDA is false. Stating that the bonded debt was in Contra Costa County around $676 million with another $371.8 million in un-bonded debt. The Mayors were urged to tell their side of the positives of the RDA to both the public and the officials in Sacramento.
Karen Mitchoff gave a quick note on the redistricting of the supervisor districts saying that there will be 2 meetings in each district and that Districts 1,2 and 4 (Concord) will gain territory and 3 and 5 will lose territory. How it is going to be broken down is not decided.