San Leandro, like many California communities, boosted employee benefits over a decade ago, when the booming stock market swelled pension funds -- making it seem like an almost free way to raise government employee compensation.
Today investment returns are painfully low and the easy money gone. And governments are being forced to pay more of their operating revenues to honor pension obligations -- while the economic slump has crimped tax revenues.
San Leandro will have an election in November.
The city manager is negotiating contracts with city workers now.
Do we know where candidates stand, or how the contract talks are going?
Not so much.
But a prompted dozens of comments and some interesting differences.
Here are highlights:
Mike Sobek, president of the San Leandro Police Officer's Association: The SLPOA is not against pension reform as (Patch) stated with the status quo comment. We simply are looking at what is best for our members in conjunction with what the community is asking.
Marga Lacabe, blogger and Democratic Party activist: A large number of (police officers) have compensations close to $200K a year, and several top that. The average family income in San Leandro is a third of that. Do you think whining that you want more, while our social services, after school programs, library hours and community events are cut for lack of money, will endear you to the community?
Justin Hutchison, city council candidate: With regard to pension reform. I work as a store manager . . . I never have to worry about getting shot in the head on a random traffic stop. I never have to worry about the one day when I may have to pull the trigger. I do not have to sacrifice my body taking people into cutsody, drive in high speed pursuits risking my life, etc. Public Safety Officers work a very rigorous and stressful job. I believe they deserve a nice pension in their retirement.
Justin Agrella, Patch commenter: According the FBI’s Annual Uniform Crime Report, there are nearly one million police officers serving in the United States now. The number of deaths as a percentage of the total officers serving is .007% of the total. You are more likely to get struck by lightning than to get killed serving as a police officer anywhere in the country -- much less in San Leandro.
Tony Santos, former mayor: The city started pension reform long before it was fashionable; city's employees have taken huge cuts in pay and benefits over the past several years; I believe none have received any "cost of living" increase in over five years . . . salaries and benefits have been cut dramatically, from a high of $48 million a year down to about $36 million-a savings of $12 million . . . we should be thanking our employees for the sacrifice they have provided over the last five or so years.
Hermy B. Almonte, city council candidate: San Leandro did not adopt any measures under Mayor Santos that resulted in any reduction in the cost of employee pensions in the near term. Today nearly $13 million in city funds goes to pay for worker retirement costs, up from $4 million a decade ago. The amount keeps rising and consuming a greater proportion of city revenues. Why does San Leandro have the worst roads in Alameda County? Why is the city history museum closed? Why do we only have 89 sworn police officers when a city of our size should have at least 100 officers?
David Nierengarten, citizen and Patch commentator: I have the budget report from 2011 open right now. Total government activities expenditures have increased from $100.1M in 2003 to $112.2M in 2011. During that time, the public safety budget has increased from $35.7M to $45.9M, a $11.2M increase. In other words, over 90% of the increase in government expenditures in San Leandro in the past 8 years went to public safety.
Vernon S. Burton, Patch commentor: To all those . . . who have bought into the "public employee as enemy" stupidity, I say look at San Jose (where) citizens . . . elected a right of center Mayor. They are no longer one of the nation's safest places to live, they are awash in crime and murders.
Richard Mellor, Patch blogger: Increased police presence does not mean increased safety . . . The police have traditionally been used to break strikes and protect the wealthy who make the laws they pledge to defend. They are the force that throw people out of their homes on behalf of landlords and bankers. But it is a mistake to attack their pensions which are not the casue of social crisis.
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