Some say Pleasant Hill Managers' Contract Misses Cost-cutting Opportunities By Lisa P. White
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 09/17/2010 06:55:26 PM PDT
Updated: 09/21/2010 05:20:09 PM PDT

PLEASANT HILL -- The recently approved contract with the city's management employees doesn't include a raise.

That's good news for Pleasant Hill, where sales tax revenue is shrinking and budget deficits are looming.

But critics say the city missed an opportunity to cut spending, because the contract doesn't require employees to pay into retirement or raise health care premiums -- two of the biggest budget busters.

Some residents find this especially galling because the city is asking voters to increase the utility tax. Residents point to Walnut Creek and Concord, which both have much larger deficits than Pleasant Hill, where employees have accepted pay cuts or agreed to make retirement contributions.

The days of generous benefits packages for public employees are over, critics say.

"At some point you have to say, 'Stop, this can't go on this way, or we're going to go broke,' " said Kevin Gregory, who opposes the utility tax hike.

Before negotiations with the 17 management employees began, the city formed a committee, including representatives of the four bargaining groups, to talk about ways to cut heath care costs. The committee discussed a range of options, including raising premiums and changing insurers or health plans, according to Mike Nielsen, a representative of the management employees.

The management group received a 4 percent cost-of-living increase in 2009. Nielsen, Pleasant Hill's chief building official, said they agreed to forego a raise this year because of the "economic times."

City Manager June Catalano said everything will be on the table when the management group enters negotiations again in March.

Personnel costs consume about 70 percent of the city's general fund. Pleasant Hill paid about $1.4 million for health care premiums and $840,000 to cover employees' CalPERS contributions in the 2009 fiscal year, according to Mary McCarthy, finance director. City staffers began paying a portion of their health care premiums in 2006, and now pay $55 per month for family medical coverage. 

 (Note - the $840,000 mentioned above goes to pay the EMPLOYEES contribution to CalPERS. This is in addition to contributions paid solely by the City to CalPERS...) - Editor

Nielsen declined to comment on residents' suggestion that employees pay a greater share of the tab for their retirement and health insurance benefits.

Pleasant Hill leaders note the city has cut spending -- the most recent budget froze 22 vacant positions, including several top management posts.

The contract the police officers ratified last year ties raises to the city meeting revenue targets, which didn't happen.

Still, Councilwoman Terri Williamson, who is running for re-election, said the city must do more, and that could include employee contributions to pensions and health care.

But she acknowledged the difficulty of asking employees to take what amounts to a pay cut during a recession, particularly since the city expects to have a $9.4 million reserve fund at the end of fiscal year 2011-12.

Councilman Michael Harris, also seeking re-election, agreed heath care and pensions must be discussed at next year's contract talks.

"I would like to see if we can come up with a way of getting these ever-increasing costs under control. I don't know what the answer is going to be," he said.

The management contract includes perks such as monthly car allowances of several hundred dollars and up to $1,500 to buy a computer or other technology every two years.

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9/24/2012 04:02:30 am

Fine article bro


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