Thoughts About City Pensions and the Budget

         I spoke at the Town Hall meeting tonight urging that we reduce pension costs before they break the bank. Later in the meeting, someone reacted to my comments by defending the pension status quo because our police and firemen are important to the community. I whole-heartedly agree that police and firemen are important to the community and have said so publicly more than once. I agree that the other City workers, in public works and Human Relations, etc. are important to the community. I even agree that many in the private sector perform work important to the community. That is not the issue.  

         Pensions should provide retirement security - not generate wealth. They should not be viewed as  "deferred compensation" for work previously done. If additional compensation is needed it should be paid for by those who receive the services provided - as salary. Overly generous pension promises are all too easy to make and unfair to future generations who must pick up the tab - for services they didn't receive. The issue I raised tonight is why public sector pensions are so much more generous, relative to salary, and years worked, and retirement age, than those in the private sector. Here is the gist of my  comments:

           " La Mesa, according to the current online budget, will spend $6 1/4 million to pay for pensions (including Social Security) this year. That is 33% of payroll. Were the city to spend the same proportion on its employees' pensions as is typical in private sector retirement programs (10 - 12% of payroll) pension costs would be reduced to about $2 1/4 million -- about $4 million less than we are spending. Despite the $7 million Prop L tax increase, our budget is so tight that we can't even afford the relatively modest $15,000 necessary to support the Flag Day parade.

         There are a number of things that can be done, some short term and some longer term, to ease this awful burden on taxpayers. You have only to look to the city of San Diego for leadership. Until very recently, San Diego was a poster child for pension abuse and irresponsibility. But they made some changes to pension agreements and qualified a ballot initiative which, when passed, will restore pension fairness and fiscal sanity. And they didn't increase taxes!

         I believe the primary responsibility of the City Council is to ensure essential services are provided in a cost effective and frugal manner. That is not the case when it comes to pensions in La Mesa. I again call on the City Council to reduce the millions in excess spending on pensions by restoring rough equality between pensions typical in the private sector and those provided to our city employees. It is a shame to celebrate our centennial with this fiscal cloud hanging over our heads. We need leadership."

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Tags: City Council, Flag Day parade, Government, La Mesa, La Mesa Today, La Mesa news, Pensions, Prop L, Russell Buckley, Town Hall meeting


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