CC Times Endorses Jack Weir - No Pleasant Hill Tax - the "No on Measure T" campaign
Contra Costa Times editorial: We recommend Jack Weir and Terri Williamson for Pleasant Hill City Council  PLEASANT HILL CITY COUNCIL: Incumbent and newcomer have a better grasp on the city's new fiscal reality

MediaNews editorial

Posted: 10/06/2010 12:01:00 AM PDT

PLEASANT HILL faces a new fiscal reality -- and it needs City Council members who understand that. For that reason, of the five candidates running for two seats in the Nov. 2 election, we endorse Jack Weir and incumbent Terri Williamson.

The city's current two-year budget spends $1.2 million more than it takes in. Sales tax, on which the city is highly dependent, was down about 15 percent from expectations last year. To help make up the shortfall, the city is seeking voter approval on Nov. 2 for a utility tax increase.

Yet, at the same time, the city, with a tradition of generous employee benefits, provides nearly free health care and completely free pensions to its workers.

City workers pay $55 a month for medical coverage, regardless of the number of dependents. The city pays the rest, which works out to about $1,000 per employee per month. As for retirement, the city not only pays the employer share of payments to the state retirement system, it also picks up the employee share. As a result, for every dollar of payroll, the city pays another 37 cents for police pensions and 19 cents for the retirement of other workers.

That was bad policy when the city was flush with cash; it's horrible now that revenues have shrunk. As the city enters negotiations next year with all of its employee unions, the council needs to remember that its first obligation is to provide services while being mindful of the taxpayer burden.

Interestingly, if the city required employees to pay their share of retirement, it would free up nearly as much money as the utility tax increase would generate. The pension change wouldn't solve the city's fiscal problems, but it's an obvious move that could save substantial money.

Credit business consultant Weir with pointing that out. He stands above the other candidates in his critical analysis of the city budget. That's not surprising. Weir brings an impressive resume: Founder of the Pleasant Hill Taxpayers Association; board member of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association; and member of the citizen oversight committees for bond measures in the John Swett and Mt. Diablo school districts and the Contra Costa Community College District. Weir understands numbers and the seriousness of the city's fiscal plight.

For the second council seat, we endorse Williamson because she clearly understands the city faces troubling financial times and needs to restructure its employee benefits. First elected to the council in 1985, Williamson was a driving force behind the wonderful redevelopment of the city's downtown. As the only council member to oppose the city's latest two-year budget, she correctly questioned its optimistic assumptions that city revenues will rise next fiscal year.

In making these endorsements, we pass over incumbent Michael Harris, a smart and thoughtful guy who, unfortunately, seems badly torn between pleasing city employees and making the tough changes that are badly needed. As for challenger Michael Flake, he needs to build a constituency in the community and think more carefully about some of his proposals, such as using the city economic development director to encourage high school students to patronize an In-N-Out Burger to be built on Contra Costa Boulevard.

Finally, there's former Councilwoman Suzanne Angeli. While she has a long record of service in Pleasant Hill, Angeli is also well-known as a longtime union president representing BART workers. In what could be a very tough upcoming year of negotiations for the city, the last thing taxpayers need is a labor leader on their side of the table.



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