It’s time to bring the new elite back to economic reality

The equation in days gone by was simple: Public safety
employees, our firefighters and police officers, earned so-so wages
during their careers, but accumulated a good retirement package for
their service along with a great measure of respect during active
duty.
The equation in days gone by was simple: Public safety employees, our firefighters and police officers, earned so-so wages during their careers, but accumulated a good retirement package for their service along with a great measure of respect during active duty.

In the last 15 years, all that has changed. Our public safety employees have become the new elite. Wages, buoyed by a plethora of union money-grabbing rules, have skyrocketed and other-worldly retirement pensions – many exceeding $100,000 annually for life – have left the average taxpaying resident in the dust of the shiny, new, fully-loaded Chevy Tahoes being driven by a group that has come, unfortunately for all, to feel entitled.

The pendulum, however, is beginning to come back to reality, albeit slowly. Imagine that the Gilroy firefighters and the police have agreed in recent contract negotiations to pay 9 percent into their own retirement accounts. That’s a step forward, and a big deal for the city financially. Combined savings is more than $1 million a year.

But let’s keep it in perspective. Haven’t all of us outside that elite group been paying into our own retirement accounts for years and years?

Perspective is important. The city has been paying the employee retirement contributions for public safety employees for a long time. Meanwhile, many firefighters, working under dubious, but incredibly favorable overtime work rules, are pulling in $100,000-plus earnings, enjoying Cadillac health benefits and studying ways to spike already incredible pensions.

It’s a racket that has left taxpayers holding the financial bag. The city of Gilroy is on the hook for $70 million, $35 million of that is in a long-term, 30-year obligation to the public employee retirement fund, CalPERS.

That obligation will have a huge and growing impact on city finances. Ironically, the city’s ability to hire police officers and firefighters will most certainly be impacted. Needed parks and recreation programs, which arguably are public safety programs for our youth, are being, and will continue to be, curtailed.

The effects are long-term and act as a ball and chain around the city’s financial flexibility.

While the recently signed contracts are a step in the right direction, the agreed-to retirement packages for police and fire only apply to new hires. Those savings are way, way into the future.

The City Council should press this issue. What can be done? Can the city limit pension spiking options? How can Gilroy roll back public safety health benefit packages to keep costs in line?

Soaring costs associated with the new elite need to be kept in line so that the city has money to enhance the quality of life for residents in other areas. It’s time to stop pouring all our revenue into the firefighter and police pots. It’s time to spread the wealth for the benefit of all.

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