Ryan Hagen, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/13/2012 08:41:28 PM PDT
SAN BERNARDINO – Forget the politics and look at the math, city employee unions are saying in the wake of statements by city officials pegging them with much of the blame for the city’s decision to pursue bankruptcy.
In the document saying the city should prepare for bankruptcy, Acting City Manager Travis-Miller wrote that employee retirements cost the city $1.9million in fiscal year 2011-2012, notes John Marini, director of the San Bernardino Professional Firefighters’ executive board.
That’s just a fraction of the city’s projected deficit of $45 million, he says.
“We’re being scapegoated,” Marini said. “Our contract’s stayed the same, and we’ve lost 19 firefighters.”
Mayor Pat Morris and some City Council members have said the city’s labor costs – particularly skyrocketing pensions – were among the biggest factors contributing to the ongoing deficit.
Indeed, Travis-Miller’s report said that three-quarters of the city’s general fund is spent on employee compensation, with most of that going to police officers and firefighters.
And according to state data from 2010, many public safety officials make far more than most city residents.
More than 200 Police Department employees made more than $100,000 in a year in wages subject to Medicare, including one sergeant who made $317,179, according to database of the California State Controller’s Office.
More than 100 Fire Department employees had earnings more than that $100,000 threshold, according to the database.
The city’s charter requires that salaries be set at the median of 10 similar cities, but the much-higher totals come because of heavy overtime.
And it’s only fair that people working that much – at a job that must be done for the sake of safety – be paid well for it, say members of both the police and firefighter unions.
“We’re doing the work of two or more people,” said firefighter Rich Lentine, another executive board director. “We’d like to do less – we’d like to go home. But the city won’t hire more firefighters, even though we’ve asked them to.”
A full crew of firefighters has to be ready to get to an emergency – medical or fire – within six minutes, Marini said.
“No one wants to pay for a standing army,” he said. “But it’s not always wartime, and you need to have one ready.”
City officials have suggested closing some stations to lower demands on overtime, but that would mean it would take more than six minutes to get to calls, Marini said.
Travis-Miller wrote that the effect on response time would be minimal. But a minute can mean the difference between life and death, Marini said.
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