Ruehlig won’t eat his hat over Council decisions
As promised, one in my hat collection still stands ready to be eaten should this current Antioch City Council buck it’s Union label. So far, the fedora hasn’t come close to the carving knife as Big Labor, Big Government and Big Spending rule the local roost.
Let me first applaud this Council for working hard and getting out into the public, especially the tireless, impassioned Wade Harper. Kudos, too, for, the Council’s 3-2 vote rejecting pot dispensaries from sporting their shingle in Antioch. The food union workers were disappointed, but, in the end, two of the usual four member voting bloc showed that they are not, in fact, monolithic. Hats off for the independent thinking.
Timing is everything in life and Antioch ‘s current plate is simply better off without the attendant issues of pot dispensaries. Common sense considerations of city reputation, setting teen example, and police manpower shortage prevailed. After all, Pittsburg, with half Antioch’s rate of crime, voted 5-0 against allowing dispensaries and didn’t even consider the topic deserved discussion.
I wish, though, that I could be as cheerful about the holiday time emergency vote on retirement packages circumventing the new state reform by four days. The new Council voted 4-1 (businessman Gary Agopian objecting) to scrap the deal made earlier in the year to bring new police pensions back from 3% at 50 to 3% at 55. On top of that, in a Christmas-giving frenzy, they threw in a bonus to twenty-one incidental city employees, increasing pension accruals from 2.0 to 2.7% yearly at age 55.
Let’s count the reasons why all this hurt so bad.
#1) Let’s, for argument’s sake, assume it a sensible proposition that we will, in fact. have trouble recruiting experienced officers without such a package (which many of our neighbors, tellingly, don’t have). Why, though the incidental, non-police personnel give-away?
This was not Chief Cantando’s thrust or intention when he initially proposed the police sweetener. The package simply got hijacked by city staff wanting to be ‘fair”.
#2) The earlier assumption is just that, assumption. We are speculating and rolling dice that this deal will attract seasoned officers, Agreed, early on still, but note, not one officer has yet been hired from this.
#3) What kind of an example doe this set to reverse a deal painstakingly negotiated earlier in the year? What does it say to the four or five other city bargaining units? They must be salivating.
#4). Consider the shaken trust level of Antioch voters, who invariably will someday be asked to pay a sales or parcel tax for additional police services? Kiss that proposition goodbye.
#5) Where’s the sobriety? City staff claims that this will only cost Antioch $23,670 a year, which if inflation, shortfalls and unfavorable actuarials don’t bite us, amounts to us paying some $700,000 over, say, thirty years.That’s no pittance but, worse yet, a citizens committee that went to City Hall raised no hackles when they showed staff calculations of three million in real actuarial benefit.
Who, then, pays the rest? The Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) gets stuck. Is that fair? Isn’t that the very reform we all want, where one city can’t sock it to others by passing on their largesse? Is three million dollars, even if not all comes from the Antioch pot, not an inordinate sum to bet on a gamble that might attract only a handful of officers? How much is that per recruit? Brotherly love aside, won’t we all eventually get dinged with increases for a system shortfall, just like insurance payoffs aren’t free?
I, for one, begrudge no one generous retirement. If only we could wave a magic wand and let every citizen in the country eat of the fatted calf. Fact is, though, we just can’t keep printing and spending money without becoming Greece. Sound budgets and sound pension plans are not made by wands but by sharpened pencils, not made by politicians who rise and shine wanting to give things away, but by bean counters who are paid to object.
Antioch is facing a two million dollar plus deficit next year. We have tens of millions already in unfunded retirement liability. We also owe it to the State not to take advantage. This Council, which has charitable, good-intentioned people who like to please, simply has to learn the operative fiscal word of this age, no.
Walter Ruehlig, Antioch