Jim Ruffalo: High-flying government pension costs scrutinized

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Looking for a good online auction site while telling Meg Whitman if she’s going to spend that much personal money on running for elective office, then she really ought to try for a Bell City Council seat ... Big bucks — or perhaps lack of same — will be on the collective minds of the Placer County Board of Supervisors as it begins work on the next budget. Compounding the problem will be an upcoming announcement that Placer County’s property assessment levels are falling at about the same rate as the president’s popularity poll numbers. I’m told by a very reliable source that assessment figures for the county are off close to another 6 percent. And just for the record, the City of Auburn’s are about another percentage point lower than that. What does this mean? Well, let’s put it this way; when was the last time the county laid off a department head? One thing for sure is that the next round of contract talks with county workers will spend an inordinate amount of time when it comes to the issue of benefits, especially pensions. Talk among supervisors’ staffers is that while at least one supe would like to see “zero” as the starting figure for how much taxpayers’ money should be spent on providing pensions, there will be some money allotted for that expenditure. Recently, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich addressed a gathering of county supervisors and the like at Reno. Among his remarks was, “Today we have a license to do things that haven’t been done before.” In case you haven’t figured it out, he was referring to government-funded pensions and — what he sees — as the need to get control of those costs. Placer County Supervisor Jim Holmes was in attendance, and according to his remarks to the Meddlers, “I wouldn’t doubt that (the board is) looking for more cost-recovery.” Holmes was making a specific reference to the cost of providing medical coverage for current and former county workers. After the meeting, he told me that “the current rate (of taxpayers costs) is unsustainable.” He’s right, of course, and being an elected official possessing a lengthy business background, he knows what happens when anybody finds out there’s too much month left after the money. Holmes added that he doubted there’s to be a wholesale ending of such benefits, but drastic cuts probably aren’t out of the question. Yes, something has to be cut. It would just be a welcome change if this time the cuts were made on the largest paychecks instead of the smallest ... Getting hosed? I run the following not so much because I’m painfully bothered by the deal. Rather, I do it because the numbers are so interesting and intriguing. These numbers are culled from the latest commercial lease proposal between the Newcastle Fire Protection District and CloudBase LLC (owners of the firehouse at 9111 Highway 193). It calls for the district to pay a collective $400,000 for the next five years (beginning on Sept 15), with an annual cost of living adjustment after the fifth year. The district also makes a $10,000 security deposit, and the district has the option of purchasing the building for $1.5 million any time during the first five years. The district is also on the hook (and ladder?) for insurance, service and utility fees and must “maintain all landscaping and irrigation including on CalTrans easement.” And after all that, the district doesn’t even get reserved parking rights, but must play catch-as-catch-can with the other nearby tenants ... Sergeants Four: No this is not the sequel, which would be tough seeing as how the Rat Pack has left the building. Instead. I refer to the four sergeants’ positions inside the Auburn Police Department. If everything goes right starting with the City Council meeting, those four positions will soon make up the newest labor-bargaining unit. Before, those spots belonged to the Auburn Police Officers Association (APOA), but because of an overly officious effort at the lowest level, the sergeants decided to get out of Dodge. No surprise here, seeing as how at least one current sergeant was made to feel extremely unwelcome by a few members of the APOA during the last contractual go-round. And it’s a good move organization-wise because those sergeants are sometimes called upon to assume functions normally handled by lieutenants, of which APD has none at present. Good move, especially considering that little by little, the APOA is becoming a cartoon of its former self.  Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at