This is an expanded version of a story that previously appeared online.
Although City Manager Glen Rojas characterized it as a restructuring instead of a pay raise, the end result of a 3-2 vote by the Menlo Park City Council on June 14 was to bump up the salary for each police commander by approximately $14,000 a year.
"A rose by any other name," said pension reform advocate Ned Moritz during public comment. "It doesn't matter whether we call it a pay increase or a restructuring. It's still a pay increase."
Council members Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki dissented. Vice Mayor Keith asked to postpone voting on that specific budget item to allow time for further analysis, a move her colleague agreed with. "It's not going to hurt us to review and make sure," Mr. Ohtaki said. But that motion failed 2-3.
The raise passed as part of the city's budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which the council approved.
The new budget closes a $571,675 gap between revenue and expenses through a combination of measures such as paying off $7.16 million of unfunded public safety pension liability for an immediate savings of $828,000, and $3.6 million in interest overall; boosting fees; converting two sworn police officer positions to non-sworn slots; outsourcing some maintenance services; and spending less. Despite talk of raising the utility users tax, the budget assumes that will remain at 1 percent through the fiscal year, which starts July 1.
The 2011-12 budget estimates both revenue and expenses at $37.4 million, compared to the adjusted revenue of $36.8 million and expenses of $37.2 million seen during the previous fiscal year. The staff report acknowledged that revenues could again fall short of projections.
"I think what gets lost is that we have a balanced budget tonight," said Mayor Rich Cline before casting his vote of approval. Referring to the new two-tier pension system and long-term projects that may bring more revenue to the city, he continued, "There are a lot bigger things going on than $14,000 in salary."
You can't compare police work to regular employment, Mayor Cline said, and the data showed the commander earned less in some situations than the sergeants being supervised.
Staff reported that without the pay increase, the salary for a commander fell mid-range compared to other similar cities, while the pay for police officers ranked second, and for sergeants, third.
Labor negotiations remain key to balancing the new budget. The sergeants union recently agreed to a two-year pay freeze, among other concessions, and the city hopes other unions follow suit.
That could be a rocky road. Rene Morales, speaking on behalf of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), told the council it was "just plain wrong" to give raises while laying off people, and asked the council to decide against contracting out grounds and street maintenance. Outsourcing stayed in.