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Compared to what?


By JD Miller, CPA



Lafayette City Manager Stephen Falk made a comment to CBS Channel 5 News recently that he doesn’t think that State, County and City employees are overpaid.


Shouldn’t you ask the question "Compared to what?"


A recent segment that appeared on The Lehrer Report on KQED 9 reported that the highest paid firefighter in New Bedford, MA, received $60,000 including overtime in 2008. New Bedford is a community where the Cost of Living is almost 50% higher than the San Francisco Bay Area. Vallejo paid many of its firefighters nearly 3 Times That Amount in 2007. And every starting firefighter is paid more than $60,000 a year.


Those who aren’t State, County and City employees, you and me, aren’t being paid comparable salaries or benefits.


But you and I are expected to pay the ever increasing costs of the salaries and the benefits for these employees.


The costs for these salaries and benefits increase at a rate much greater than the increase in the taxes that citizens pay each year, and, yes, those taxes do increase every year


Cities, Counties and the State don’t have to levy a new tax or increase the tax rates to increase the amount of taxes that the citizens pay each year.


True, we are in a cyclical downturn in these revenues. But look to the past. I’ll bet you noticed that sales tax revenues, property tax revenues, utility users tax revenues and income tax revenues increased year after year. Isn’t that because you and I paid these ever increasing taxes?


You and I do pay more in taxes every year. At the city and county levels, the cost of what you buy every day increases, so the sales taxes you pay increases. When your utility rates go up, the utility users taxes you pay increase. When the value of your home increases, your property taxes go up.


At the state level, in past years, in addition to the growth of sales tax revenues, income tax revenues continually increased because income taxes increased.


How, then, you ask, have you been able to keep paying more and more, year after year, for salaries and benefits for City, County and State employees until this "Perfect Storm"?


You’ve settled for less and less. Look around you. Check out what you don’t receive in City services today that you remember receiving 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago.


The most obvious is the deplorable condition of your streets and highways.


The Florence Douglas Senior Center used to offer far more to support local Seniors than it does today. If you’re a Senior Citizen, you know what this means.


Less obvious is the continual decline in the education that you provide for your children, those who are your future.


There are fewer police officers on the street today.


Many of your fire stations are now closed, and more will likely close.


All of these cuts forced your City into bankruptcy just to maintain a level of public safety services for you.


All this is the true cost you continue to pay for your City, County and State employees.


Shouldn’t you be asking these questions?


What is it really costing you?


How much is "Fair" to pay for your public services?


Do you really want to give up everything else that you were getting just to pay for public safety services?


How are you going to pay for it tomorrow, because you can only cut so far?