If you want to talk more about the challenges Santa Rosa faces in balancing its budget, join us for a discussion today on KSRO 1350 “The Drive” at 3:30 p.m.

I’ve been invited to come on and talk about my column last week (“SR has nowhere to go but pay cuts”) in which I discussed the difficulty of meeting a projected $17 million budget deficit without an across-the-board reduction in pay. (In short: Police and fire employees would have to agree to such a cut, and right now it’s not looking promising. The issue would then have to go to binding arbitration as Santa Rosa is one of only about 25 cities, including bankrupt Vallejo, that require binding arbitration. The process is expensive, time-consuming and unpredictable.)

A couple of points I want to emphasize this afternoon:

  • I want to make clear that binding arbitration applies to public and fire employees only, not other city employees. This is the process approved by Santa Rosa voters in 1996 that requires all disputes go to a third party for resolution. Some contend this is one of the reasons why the portion of the general fund budget that goes to public safety has grown substantially in recent years. It now represents 56 percent of the city’s general fund budget.
  •  I also want to explain what I meant when I wrote about how some city employees last year agreed to freeze their pay last year while some still got cost of living adjustments (COLAs). According to Tony Alvernaz, president of the Santa Rosa Employees Association, police agreed last year to freeze their salaries for two years and agreed to no COLAs. Fire employees agreed to the freeze and agreed to defer their COLAs until later.

    Employees represented by the Santa Rosa City Employees union did get cost of living adjustments last year of 2 percent every six months. But this was in exchange for an earlier agreement to go to a two-tiered retirement system. (Meaning new hires won’t get the same benefits as longer term employees.)

In any event, this is in contrast to those in the private sector who saw their income plummet last year. And given that there was negative inflation, not even Social Security recipients received a cost of living increase – for the first time since 1975.

– Paul Gullixson