Considering the T-word
That’s the term long-time former City Manager Fred Davis used to describe his reaction to the Chico City Council’s recent approval of a new contract giving firefighters raises totaling 27.7 percent over the next six years.
What confounds him is why the City Council approved yet another generous package when it knew the city was facing a $56 million long-term shortfall and couldn’t afford it.
We’re as confounded as he is. Yes, we know some councilmembers believe the city got a bargain on the deal because the long-term contract adds stability to the budgeting process. But that doesn’t change the fact that it will cost more money than the city is likely to have. And we question whether fixed raises are a good deal. What financial forecast told councilmembers that the economy—and revenues—would grow more than 27 percent in the next six years?
It’s no wonder that the Chico Chamber of Commerce, in its recent task force report on the city budget, argues that the city would be unwise to try to convince voters to pass a sales-tax increase without first doing everything it can to cut expenses. (See “Chamber to city: Clean house first.")
At its meeting Tuesday (Dec. 18), the council began that process, making some relatively easy cuts that won’t affect service levels and are projected to reduce the long-range deficit to $35 million. To their credit, councilmembers held off on cutting funding for the library, arts and community-based service groups—at least for now. (See “Funding for library, arts, groups saved.") But the heavy lifting has yet to be done.
The city is entering negotiations with the Chico Police Officers Association on a five-year contract. The assumption is that the cops will get something like what the firefighters got. Again, the city can’t afford that, though it makes more sense in the case of police officers, who are in much shorter supply than firefighters.
At this rate, the city is not going to be able to balance its budget by cutting expenses, given the way it’s locked into employee contracts. The chamber has suggested a number of revenue enhancers, but they can’t possibly generate an additional $35 million. We agree with its task force’s contention that voters aren’t ready to support a sales-tax hike, but the idea should be open for discussion. Ultimately, it may be our only way of solving a very serious problem.
We appreciated what Emily Alma, the executive director of Community Collaborative for Youth, said at the council meeting Tuesday. “Why is ‘taxes’ a bad word?” she asked. “It should be a good word. … I would be happy to pay more for the services our community provides. That’s how we take care of each other.”