SLO binding arbitration debate

July 27, 2011

A debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters gave the public a chance to hear both sides of the arguments on two San Luis Obispo contentious ballot measures on Tuesday. [KSBY]

If passed, Measure-A would give the San Luis Obispo City Council the ability to change retirement agreements with all city employees. At this time, changes require a majority vote of the people.

Measure-B would undo binding arbitration, a measure passed by the voters in 2000 that allows a third party to decide on safety worker contract disputes.

Lauren Brown, co-chair of San Luis Obispo Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, and San Luis Obispo City Councilmember Andrew Carter argued that the current pension system is getting far too expensive and binding arbitration takes away voter control. They urged voters to vote yes on Measure-A and Measure-B.

“Within five years we’ll be spending $10.5 million. That would be twenty percent of our general fund just for pensions,” Carter said.

President of the Police Officers Association Matt Blackstone and San Luis Obispo firefighter Devin Reiss said that the current system protects safety workers while allowing the public to vote on pension reform. Both are urging the public to vote no on Measure-A and Measure-B.

“We support pension reform, we know that there are changes that need to be made in the pension system and we have been willing participants in discussions with the city about those changes that need to be made,” Blackstone said.

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The question is what is a decent/ fair wage by definition? Well that brings you back to if your receiving that wage or not. I believe in fair compensation although I think it needs to be fiscally responsible as well. Sadly goverment is very generous in good times while tax dollars are rolling in although we are expereincing the flip side of that coin currently. If the Police and Fire Department lose the right to binding arbitration they have choices as we all do stay and work with in the paremeters you are given to negotiate a contarct or quit and seek employment else where. No offense but your abilities are not exclusive and no one else has them. You have been trained in a “trade” and there are many qualified people who would be happy to have your job with out binding arbitration. So the choice is really the people in these fields.

i.e. NOBODY IS IRREPLACEABLE – a good thing to remember when employed, or even running a business.

This says a lot. Emergency medical services are provided by San Luis Ambulance Service staffs paramedics. All agencies for fire services have mutual aid.

All I know is the taking the pay scale for those who were included in binding arbitration is ridiculous. With all the problems all levels of government are having making their budgets is it any wonder that joe taxpayer has a problem with this? when the big raises came about a few years ago i heard many in that line of work almost get giddy thinking of the money coming in. Sorry folks, your windfall is going to bite you in the backside.

I want the level of service the city currently has to stay the same. I want at least one paramedic on each fire engine 24/7. If I call 911, I want responders there in 4 minutes or less. If there is a fire, I want there to be enough firefighters on duty to extinguish it fast and safely for everyone involved. I want my firefighters and paramedics to have the best equipment and the best training possible. Why? Because I deserve it.

Vote NO on B.

Once again no offense but the SLO FD is way over staffed per the capita they serve. Each station runs maybe on a good day(24 hour period) 2 calls for service? Station 1 and 3 are literally blocks from each other. I have looked at some other citys like Lompoc for example twice the population as SLO and they have 2 stations running approximately same volume of calls for service. And the amount of over head staffing for such a small department baffles me. That work load could be transfered to the people staffing the fire stations. What is going on during there down time other than “training”. Santa Maria has four stations and they struggle to keep up with the volume of calls they have. Every city/ county demographic has different needs and maybe this should be more closely looked at. Are we getting the best bang for are buck? Or paying alot of taxes for the what if?

I want those things too…. and I hear that a whole lot of people are willing to provide those services at a greatly reduced rate. If the existing public safety employees are, then that’s great! If not, hasta la vista babies!

1) The soundbite ought to be “pension obiligations have gone up four-fold in the ten years since binding arbitration began 10 years ago.”

2) Where the heck was Eric “People Will Die” Baskin for this debate? He seems to have a strong opinion on the issue.

The increased pension obligations have nothing to do with binding arbitration. Those 15 retirees with greater than $100,000 pensions are administrative types, who don’t have binding arbitration (and are the ones truly paid too much). Pension obligations have gone up because of the recession. Ten years ago, CalPERS was giving contract agencies like the city reduced priced bills, due to investment returns, but it was with the understanding those reduced bills were temporary. The city didn’t plan ahead, and now has increased pension bills like everybody else — because of the economy.

The current City of SLO Police and Fire are eligible for pensions after only thirty years of work that are equal to 90% of their salary plus a built-in 2% per year cost-of-living allowance. This means many SLO police and fire retire in their mid-fifties with an annual retirement pension equal to 90% of their working salary. Consequently MOST of the current City of SLO police and fire will be pulling down $100,000+ yearly pensions plus benefits the day they retire and after 30 years of retirement will be receiving $200,000 + yearly pensions plus benefits (if they live to their mid-eighties).

There entire pension haul after 30 years will equal $4.5 million plus another $500,000 in benefits and the people of SLO are footing 100% of the cost. And the people of SLO wonder why their City is slowly going to go broke.

This is what the actuaries (third party independent pension fund analysts) are warning the SLO City Council about. You know, the same guys that kept warning that Social Security and Medicare were going broke, but the politicians simply turned a blind eye. The problem is not today, the problem is in the future when these police and fire retire, and it can not be stressed enough that the future problem for the people of the City of SLO is huge. Should the SLO politicians and, more importantly, the people of SLO turn a blind eye to the report of the third party independent pension actuaries?

There needs to be real reform. Councilman Carter points out a scary fact — “Within five years we’ll be spending $10.5 million. That would be twenty percent of our general fund just for pensions.” That’s scary. It needs to be fixed now while it’s still fixable.

Actually, if you’d listened more carefully, you’d have heard Carter didn’t say what you say — though that’s what he wanted you to hear. He said if nothing changes, pension obligations could reach $10 million. Note the conditionals. But, of course, things will change in the next 5 years. The economy could be worse, it could be better — either way, the pension obligations will change. You can’t get around that. Also, the Yes on A people are perpetrating a big lie: they say the city would NEVER dump CalPERS, yet if you read the text of A, that’s exactly what it says the council CAN do, and is the only option it offers for “reducing” pensions. So the city goes its own way, like the county (have you been following that mess?), the economy goes south, then the taxpayers are on the legal hook for everything; there’s no shared risk with others as there is now. A is a stupid idea, and its proponents are using scare tactics to advance the anti-pension program of the US Chamber of Commerce.

Generally I am in favor of binding arbitration. This allows those who work for a living to obtain a decent wage, benefits or working conditions from those who would rather not pay. However, the fact that someone somewhere is paid a huge amount for a job shouldn’t mean that an arbitrator should automatically side with the higher amount… which often happens. BTW, I can see where we need police… but a premium fire department I don’t think so.

There is one unintended consequence of giving the current city council the power to divert funds from …say the police… to say… more snail darter inspectors is not where the citizens of this city want money to be spent. After all, I hear that the city has hired someone to run around town checking to see if everyone has put away their trash cans… add to this the folks who are sitting on their hands in the planning department while the business in the town burns… and you can see where we are.

The retirement issue is another story… and this is ridiculous by any measure. IN good times maybe, but definitely not now.

The council needs a complete change… but for now I will vote YES on both.

“This allows those who work for a living to obtain a decent wage”

This much I agree with, but funding outrageous retirement schemes on the backs of taxpayers is wrong. I too expect full services for my tax dollars, yet I do not find bargaining using those services as a toolagainst the voters for politcal or financial gain or threats by the unions exceptable.

Time for a change….