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  E-Mail Forum
  Response to Budget Crisis Runs the Gamut
January 14, 2004

Email on the budget crisis, particularly the Fire Department cutbacks, is running high, perhaps approaching that on street sweeping and fences. There is, however, no clear trend. 


Some want the laid off firefighters restored immediately at any cost and they threaten to throw the City Council out of office if that doesn’t happen. Others urge caution or remind us that parks and libraries are important also. Mail seems to be equally divided between unequivocal support of firefighters and those who urge concessions by the union to help balance the budget. Most want to fire either the city manager or the city council, or both – or simply clean house entirely.


Based on information obtained last night, some public and some not, here is the latest:


  • The City Council is not likely to reinstate the 18 laid off firefighters in the foreseeable future.  The anticipated cost through FY 2003-04 is $1.5 million, and the FY 2004-05 anticipated cost is nearly $3.5 million. PERS cost are anticipated to double next year. The finance director says that the City simply does not have the money. As each of the 5 senior firefighters who were anticipated to retire in 2003 actually retires, they will be replaced with a younger firefighter with first priority going to those who were laid off.
  • The finance director does not currently have any idea how much money the City has or what the budget status is for the remainder of this fiscal year, but he anticipates having that information on February 17, 2004. He anticipates the fiscal situation will get worse rather than better before the end of this fiscal year.
  • Richmond will not go bankrupt.
  • Payments on all outstanding bond debt service have been made through the end of FY 2003-04. Richmond will not default on any bond debt.
  • City staff and firefighters Local 188 have completely opposite perceptions of the nature of ongoing (or not) negotiations over compensation and benefits. City negotiators say the firefighters have refused to budge on pension plan cost-sharing. Local 188 representatives say the City refuses to meet with them. One or the other is misrepresenting the facts.


Following are a few examples from the dozens of emails I received in the last 24 hours:


·        “It is the fire and police departments that come to our rescue, not the City Manager or the City Council or the Mayor or anybody else covered by the City budget -- you are all "overhead".  In times of budgetary shortfall, the fire department and police department must be the last services cut.  The second point I would make it that Point Richmond has special needs -- we are a hilly community with narrow streets, crowded old houses and dense tree growth.  Rescues are more difficult, requiring familiarity with the community.  During fire season, the risks are substantially higher -- remember the Oakland disaster.  Closing the Point Richmond station at all increases the risks substantially -- delay responding to a fire here would compound a disaster.   Learn from Oakland's experience.  You do not want people second-guessing the wisdom of your decision to compromise the safety of the community after the fact.  The final point I would make is a political one.  The community needs the fire and police departments more than we need other services, and more than we need the Mayor, the City Manager or the City Council, especially when you make unwise decisions affecting my safety and the safety of the community.  If you do not lead an effort and vote to reinstate funding to staff the fire and police departments in proportion to the needs of the community, including re-opening the Point Richmond fire department 24/7, I will work for your defeat in the next election -- I will contribute to and vote for your opponent, I will campaign against you, and do my part to mobilize like-minded citizens to do the same.”


·        “Bringing back the Firefighters would close the libraries and parks probably.  But, I was told that in one study firefighters go to 5 fires a year and we have one major fire every 5 years.  The game they play with overtime is just that.  They take off regularly and have someone work their shift, then trade back the other way.  FLSA gives them a minimum of overtime for working more that 40 hours a week anyway.  These guys are working the system to the highest level.  As far as their pension, contract with PERS to go back to the lower pension for both police and fire.”


·        “Who is in charge of this city? It is obviously not you or the city council Mr. Butt. I can not believe your whining about not getting the information you need to make decisions. "The staff won't tell me", "No one is in charge of the Fire Department". Do you need someone to lead you by the hand? How can you not understand the finances and business of your own city? It's time to clean house here in Richmond. Are you the man for the job? The Fire Department is not to blame for this fiscal crisis. The Police Department is not to blame for this fiscal crisis. Don't take it out on the best and most dedicated employees we have. These men and women risk their lives for our safety. They face dangers that would make a man like you run the other way. By cutting the Fire Department and Police Department to an unsafe level you have failed to protect and serve the public.”


·        “Seems to me, the role of the Council is to hire/fire the City Manager and City attorney, and set policy. My suggestion is to try something new like holding the City Manager accountable for implementing your policy. You seem to be making things more convoluted than they really are. If the City Manager refuses to be accountable, or ensure that staff is, replace him/her. You hear the argument all the time, but can you name one instance where a staff member left the City's employ for better pay, benefits, or working conditions. I think not. Get a strong City Manager who the Council will back and get pay/benefits in line with the private and comparable public sectors. This may require the Council to have the fortitude to ride out a strike for a few months to bring things in balance.”


·        “Libraries and parks are also very important to a community.”


·        “I support your attempts to get the firemen to renegotiate their contracts. They should make some pension contributions themselves, like the majority of working people.  I support keeping the fire stations open and hiring all needed firemen.  Libraries and rec centers are necessary too, but not as crucial as our police and firemen.”


·         “Why don't we get rid of the Richmond Firefighters and just contract with the county for fire service? They seem to be a corrupt, self-serving group with an undue involvement with city politics. I don't mean to impugn the individuals, but as a whole, working as a union I feel the above is an accurate description -- although I do think the firefighters have lost control of their union. Do you think Mr. Vaca of Employee Training will be fired for embezzling LEAP money? That he applied individual donations to his and other non-related salaries is hopelessly unethical and worse is that he defends it.”