San Bernardino Seal

By Tim Reid
Thu Oct 30, 2014 – 1:04pm EDT

(Reuters) – Voters in bankrupt San Bernardino, California, will decide next week whether to scrap a budget rule that sets pay for police and firefighters based on salary levels in wealthier cities.

A hotly contested ballot initiative is asking voters to amend Section 186 of the city’s century-old charter. It mandates that base pay for police and fire personnel must equal the average salary of such workers in 10 other similarly sized California cities.

Proponents of the measure argue that the rule ties the hands of city budget managers and has led to inflated pay for police and firefighters, whose costs, including pension benefits, amount to more than 60 percent of San Bernardino’s general fund.

The judge overseeing San Bernardino’s bankruptcy has said the result of next week’s vote will be a significant factor in determining how the city proceeds in acrimonious salary and benefit negotiations, particularly with its firefighters, as it struggles to come up with a bankruptcy exit plan.

Of San Bernardino’s 210,000 residents, a third live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data, making it the poorest city of its size in California. Yet the charter automatically calculates safety worker wages based on wealthier cities with larger tax bases.

The cities San Bernardino is currently using to determine the increases are: Irvine, Santa Rosa, Daly City, Lancaster, Norwalk, Palmdale, Santa Clarita, West Covina, Fontana and Fairfield, according to its city manager Allen Parker. All of them have higher median household incomes than San Bernardino.

San Bernardino, 65 miles east of Los Angeles, filed for bankruptcy in August 2012 with a budget deficit of $45 million.

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