In response to a raft of e-mails from residents criticizing the Menlo Park City Council's recent decision to award sergeants in the police department a significant pay raise over the next 30 months, City Manager Glen Rojas posted a document to the City Council e-mail log that he said was meant to "clarify the factual information" surrounding the decision. His Jan. 19 post is reproduced below, in its entirety.
Fellow Community Members:
The Police Management Association (PMA) contract approved Tuesday January 13, 2009 has generated a number of emails regarding salary increases to the eight (8) Sergeant positions that make up the PMA. It is understandable that questions would arise with the approval of public employee salary increases in light of the current economy. Providing consistent, high quality public safety services is the top priority for this City and City Council requiring a full work force to the extent possible. During the three year period between 2004 and 2007 the City experienced a loss of 30 police officers and this critical issue had to be addressed.
After carefully evaluating the reasons for the vacancies it was clear that a key strategy had to include improving salaries in this competitive market. As part of the strategy the City approved a contract with the 41 Police Officers (POA) in April 2008 that took affect July 2008. To complete the strategy of moving police officer salaries from the ranking of 10th out of 12 comparable cities to 3rd or 4th the City approved a similar contract with the Sergeants. In anticipation of this action, funds were included in the 2008/09 budget and the resulting increases were also included in the City's 10 year financial projection.
Many of the emails on this forum included misunderstandings that may be resulting in misinformation in the community about the facts behind this Council decision. The following point-by point review of several inaccurate comments is intended to clarify the factual information.
Statement: Starting now and continually building until the contract expires in two years, these 8 sergeants will receive between a 22.75% and 35.25% base salary increase.
Clarification: The term of the contract is 30 months, not two years. At the end of the contract, base salary will increase precisely 22.75%, not 35.25%.
Statement: This salary enhancement will mean a $500,000 increase in the general fund budget each fiscal year for these eight employees.
Clarification: The 2008-09 budget (current year) will not be increased; the $61,581 was included in the budget. The budget will not see a $500,000 increase until fiscal year 2011-12, when it will be $529,627 more than 2008-09. This is a key misunderstanding, as several participants in this forum voiced concerns about a $500,000 increase in this years' budget. There is no need to increase the budget for this item at this time, as the cost of the contract for THIS year was planned for and included last spring.
Statement: A sergeant's salary of $107,086 will become $131,452 in that time. This is just 'base pay'; it does not take into consideration longevity bonuses and/or other many considerations such as working the night shift.
Clarification: Only two of the eight sergeants will be receiving the 2% night shift differential at any given time.
Statement: Contract negotiations with non-police unions are "Just Around The Corner", as the latest SEIU newsletter explained to the City's non-police employees.
Clarification: Contracts with SEIU (150 line level positions) and AFSCME (35 supervisory positions) will expire October 24, 2009.
Statement: All other employee unions use the police contracts as a reference point. Increases are traditionally pegged to increases received by police.
Clarification: While SEIU and AFSCME certainly use whatever arguments they wish in support of the highest raise they can justify, and we will be reminded of the Police raises when negotiating these contracts, there has been no correlation with Police contracts and other union contract changes. Members of these unions understand they are not public safety employees and the unique market conditions that are currently driving salaries for that field. Further, increases provided to police officers and sergeants were justified due to an inability to attract and retain staff. Those issues do not exist to any significant degree in either SEIU or AFSCME.
Statement: This contract has been negotiated in private, behind closed doors, with NO public input.
Clarification: Although the City of Menlo Park strives to be as open as possible in all decisions, contracts with unions cannot be effectively negotiated using a community-based process. The public is encouraged to comment at the time the tentative agreements are brought to Council for ratification. All prior and current Council members have participated in negotiations in this manner.
Statement: The contract and staff report has just been made public. (Thursday, January 8 for a meeting on January 13).
Clarification: Council called for public comment before each of the three closed meetings where the contract was negotiated. The community was encouraged by both the current and previous Mayor to comment before closed sessions were convened as well as at every regular council meeting during the course of the negotiations. The location and time for all closed session is posted in advance. Additionally, staff fully met requirements to make this, as with any other item set for Council action, public at least 72 hours prior to the meeting. The staff report fully discloses costs and details related to the twenty-eight page attached contract.
Statement: An important appendix is missing from the posted staff report.
Clarification: The "missing" appendix is the salary schedule. The salary schedule is normally generated after the contract is finalized. All financial information associated with the contract and its impact on the budget was fully disclosed and summarized in the staff report.
Statement: The coming general fund budget is projecting deficit spending by at least a million dollars, again.
Clarification: A deficit budget was adopted for this year, in part, based on the fact that in at least the prior five years, the City has ended its fiscal year with greater than a million dollar surplus.
Statement: Our general fund reserves are down by more than one-third from just two years ago.
Clarification: Menlo Park has had very high reserves the last several years thanks to staff cuts and other savings and efficiencies. This high reserve balance has allowed us to use reserve funding for several large projects, including transfers to fund other post employment benefits (OPEB) obligations that had been long standing but never accounted for ( an accounting change now required by the federal government but still not met by many local governments). In addition, Council recently allocated reserves for the MA Performing Arts Center and for the second phase of the El Camino visioning process. None of these allocations were unanticipated, nor were they made to cover an unexpected shortfall due to employee costs or any other factor. All were made based on the fact that reserves were extremely healthy and these were important community needs. Even following these expenses, reserves are still high in Menlo Park.
Statement: The mid-year budget projections come out next month. Let's see if we can afford this increase.
Clarification: The sergeants' contract expired December 31, 2008. A successor contract needs to be put in place. Negotiations have never been based on snapshots of the City's financial position. Budgets are assembled and financial decisions are made in the context of long term projections. In addition, the groundwork for this agreement was laid with the approval of the police officers' contract in April 2008. The raises were designed to reduce turnover, which costs the City between 80K and 120K per officer. The turnover also generates increased overtime and a reduction in special services such as investigations, traffic, code enforcement and narcotics abatement as the department strives to cover core services. 31 of our 41 officers have less than four years of experience – Menlo Park needs strong public safety leadership in place now.
Statement: All indications are that our economic projections will be down from what was projected a few months ago.
Clarification: It is reasonable to assume that the economic downturn will at some point have an impact on City revenues. Although many cities are suffering from the economic downturn, Menlo Park no longer relies on sales tax generated from consumer spending on big ticket items, like auto dealerships and other structural changes to the City's financial management practices have already been made that allow our community to retain a strong financial position even in difficult times. At this point, we are watching revenues closely and will make adjustments if they are needed.
Statement: CalPERS (the pension fund we use to pay for our city's retirees) is down at least 26%.
Clarification: The CalPERS pension fund invests in a variety of investment vehicles. Over the years, CalPERS funds have returned, on average, more than 10% per year. The rate we pay for 2009-10 will go down by 0.403% for "miscellaneous employees" and for 1.500% for safety employees due to better than average returns the past few years. Employer rates are based on the performance of the funds over a long period of time, thus moderating rates.
Statement: Can we have a 'sustainable budget' – a 2009 City Council goal – and keep increasing employee salaries at this rate?
Clarification: The sergeants' contract increase was not based on cost of living. It represented a deliberate decision to implement strategies that would address recruitment and retention issues by raising the standing of Menlo Park among comparison cities. The City will be in a better position to assess future staffing levels needed to serve the community from a standing of third or fourth in comparison salary rankings, than to have little choice but continue to play catch up by being among the lowest of the comparables.
Statement: Assuming this pay increase is granted, what should be cut from the budget to make room for it.
Clarification: At this point in time we do not anticipate cuts from the current budget as the costs of this contract are already included. These contracts costs are also included in the ten year projections used to plan for future budgets. We are continually reviewing revenues and expenditures and adjustments will be made if needed.
As a City government, we understand the concerns many people have during these difficult times. All possible steps are being taken to balance the need for maintaining Menlo Park's reputation as a safe and desirable community with the long term costs of providing the City services that support that reputation. We encourage your questions and feedback and appreciate your attention to all the information you need to be completely informed about the complexities of these important decisions. Please feel free to contact me should you have other questions or require additional information.
Glen Rojas, City Manager