Archive for Ventura County Star

Ventura firefighters got huge raises


Promoters of Measure O to increase our sales tax in Ventura — mostly city employees and employee unions — are omitting key facts. Mailers we received and recent letters published in The Star refer to needs for more police, road repair and other “urgent” needs.

What they avoid mentioning is that 2017 city revenues are already projected to be our highest in recent history. They also never mention that city employees just received massive raises. Those salary increases and rising pension costs are the real reason they want more tax money.

Here’s one example, taken directly from figures published in The Star on Aug. 6: Firefighters are receiving raises totaling 6 percent between December 2015 and July 2017, plus a bonus of $1,500 to accept this raise. In addition, they received a monthly increase of $815 toward their health care costs and a $513 monthly contribution to a health savings account (or the option to take it in cash).

Adding it up, the raise for the average Ventura firefighter, already earning $130,000 per year, is another $23,736 — much of it tax-free. That’s over 18 percent on top of an already-substantial salary. Most other city employees received similar raises earlier in the year.

Doesn’t it make sense to have more measured salary increases, and benefits more in line with what we citizens receive, and use the savings to hire more police?

We citizens always hear about the negotiations with city employees after they are over. We are only asked to show up with our checkbooks after the dealing is done.

The only voice we have is to vote no on Measure O. Restraining growth in revenues will force city officials to prioritize.  Giving them a $270 million blank check will do the opposite.

Randy Hinton, Ventura

Oxnard labor deals with pay hikes OK’d

Oxnard city seal

After two years of negotiations with public safety unions, the Oxnard City Council this week approved new contracts that include pay increases but require employees to contribute toward their pensions.

The contracts — already ratified by the Oxnard Peace Officers Association, International Association of Fire Fighters and Oxnard Public Safety Management Association — were approved Tuesday in a 3-1 vote by the council. The approval also included a new contract for the Service Employees International Union, which covers a large group of city workers, including parks and library employees.

“It’s been a long process, quite unpleasant at times,” Councilwoman Carmen Ramirez said.

She described the end result as not quite what the city or employees wanted but as middle ground.

“I wish everybody can be ecstatic about it, but no, we’re going to be satisfied with it,” Ramirez said. “We’re going to move on from this contentious time we all lived through.”

According to the contracts, police, police management and fire employees will receive an incremental pay increase that equates to 8.5 percent by 2018. In turn, those employees will make incremental contributions to their pension that will total 5 percent by 2018.

For Service Employees International Union employees, wages will rise incrementally to total 9 percent by 2019. Employee pension contributions will increase incrementally to 7 percent at the same time.

City Manager Greg Nyhoff said the contracts will cost the city for the next several years, but in 10 years without the need to contribute fully to employee pensions, the city will save $6.5 million.

Councilman Bryan MacDonald was absent from the meeting. Councilman Bert Perello voted against the contracts.

Perello said he needed more analysis to show how the city can save $6.5 million in the long term and where the savings come from.

“I want the employees who work for the city of Oxnard to understand I’m not against them getting a raise, but I am against them getting a raise when the numbers they’re based on cannot be verified,” Perello said. “And if, in fact, the numbers that can’t be verified are wrong, there will be cuts in services. And when there’s cuts in services, that’s people’s jobs.”

Nyhoff said he will present the council at a future date with a 10-year forecast comparing figures with and without the new union contracts .

Assistant City Manager Maria Hurtado said an increase in employee wages does not equal an increase in employee pension contributions on a 1-to-1 ratio.

“The budget model is very complex. It’s tied to each individual employee,” Hurtado said. “We just didn’t want to confuse the issue.”

A couple of speakers during the public-comment portion of the council meeting, Jim Lavery and George Miller, criticized the city for not having a clear explanation of how the city can have long-term savings when employee salaries will increase.

Lavery also asked Nyhoff about the $4 million in employee concessions, once pitched as a needed measure to balance the city’s budget. Without the $4 million in savings from the new union contracts, Lavery asked how the city was able to close the budget gap.

Nyhoff said the city made budget adjustments after finding long-vacant positions on the books as well as unexpected increases in property tax revenues.

In other council business, an amendment to a contract totaling up to $896,000 with an auditing firm was approved. The city last year entered a three-year agreement with Eadie & Payne LLP worth $317,000 to conduct the city’s next three audits. It turned out the amount was not enough to cover one audit.

The discovery of poor accounting practices by the city for many years gave auditors more work than anticipated, according to the city.

The council earlier this year approved two amendments to the contract totaling $293,000 in addition to the original contract amount. The amendment approved Tuesday is the third, and the amount is expected to cover the next two audits.

Representatives from the auditing firm gave the City Council and Fiscal Policy Task Force an update on a state controller’s review of the city’s audit. Controller Betty Yee’s office is conducting a review to make sure the city’s auditors performed work in accordance with governmental auditing standards.

Don Ecker of Eadie & Payne said that after meeting representatives from the controller’s office, he was told the review would be complete in coming weeks. Ecker said a report totaling two or three pages will be released, and it’s not expected to include any material findings.

“There will be a celebration shortly,” Ecker said.

The controller’s office declined to provide an update on the review. Jennifer Hanson, a spokeswoman from the office, said audit standards prevent her from commenting until a report is final.

Ventura approves contract with police, service unions


The city of Ventura has reached new labor agreements with its police and service unions.

In the contract reached with police, officers, sergeants and corporals received a 2.25 percent increase in May and will receive another increase of 2.25 percent in January. They received a $1,500 one-time payment.

Police management received increases of 1 percent in May, and another increase of 2.25 percent in January. A year later, in January 2018, they’ll receive another 1.25 percent increase. They also received a $1,500 one-time payment.

Non-public safety employees — members of the Service Employees International Union — received increases of 2.75 percent in May and will get another 2.5 percent increase in January. They received a one-time payment of $800.

All three contracts, approved by the City Council in May, run through June 30, 2018.

The contracts cost the city $787,370 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, and will cost another $1.6 million in 2016-17 and another $1.1 million in 2017-18, according to Assistant City Manager Dan Paranick.

“The fiscal impacts represent the City settling negotiations with six of its eight bargaining units (all of our employees except for two groups in the Fire Department whose contracts expired later than the other bargaining groups),” Paranick wrote in an email.

The last contract for police (non-management), which ran from Jan. 1, 2014, through December 2015, gave raises of 5.5 percent, 1.5 percent and 1 percent over the life of the contract. It gave a lump-sum payment of $500.

So for a police officer making $100,000, the raises from June 2014 to January 2017 and the payments increased a salary by $15,000.

The average pay in 2015 for those covered under the police contract, which includes officers, sergeants and corporals, was roughly $103,00 and retirement and health and retirements benefits averaged $47,000, according to the state controller’s office. That includes those who worked part-time or did not work a full year.

The average pay in 2015 for management, assistant police chiefs and commanders, was around $144,000 and health and retirements were $62,000, according to the office.

The contracts include member increases for health insurance. For non-management police, the cost for individual insurance is $112.50 per pay period through 2018. It’s $289 for a family in 2016, and rises to $433.50 and $520 in the following years.

For assistant chiefs and commanders, it’s $104 for individuals per pay period for the life of the contract and climbs to $511.50 for a family.

Costs also climb for members of the service unions. Depending on the unit, it goes from $285.50 to $345.50 over the life of a contract (it started at $116) to starting at $97 and climbing to $332.50.

Retirement contributions have also gone up in recent years. Employees now pay between 6.25 percent and 12.25 percent of their pension costs depending on their position, the staff report notes, whereas several years ago they paid nothing.