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Living in San Carlos May 10, 2010

Are San Carlos Citizens Willing to Pay (More) For Public Safety?

by Chuck Gillooley

Cut Costs, or Raise Revenue?

There has been quite a heated debate lately about the prospect of outsourcing San Carlos police and fire services.  60% of the nearly 300 people who voted on a recent poll on this site stated they were against the idea of outsourcing these vital services.  On the other side of the argument, the other 40% (as well as an apparent majority on our City Council) believes outsourcing is the way to go.  But regardless of which side you’re on, one fact remains crystal clear:  There’s not enough money in our coffers to operate The City of San Carlos as it exists today.

There’s no real secret to solving a budget deficit — you either have to a) raise revenue, or b) cut costs…or some combination of both.  When Measure U failed at the polls last year, the City Manager changed his efforts toward the latter solution, focusing his crosshairs squarely on the largest portion of the city’s budget —  public safety.

As you now know, the solution that the City Manager has proposed to cut costs in public safety is for the City to basically divest itself of the financial burden of supporting its own Police and Fire Departments by contracting these services to outside agencies — a move that many residents of San Carlos are apparently not in favor of, as the aforementioned poll indicates.

So this begs the following question — if maintaining our own Police and Fire Departments is important enough to San Carlos residents….

Are We Willing to Pay Extra for Public Safety?

Would San Carlos residents be willing to pony up an additional parcel tax to maintain the Police and Fire Departments roughly as they exist today?   I can almost hear the collective shudder of the prospect of yet another tax to pay, and the logical question that will be raised is “Hasn’t the City has already spoken on this matter with Measure U?”

Let’s address that briefly.    Regarding the failure of Measure U — I still maintain that what was at stake, and the dire consequences of failure when Measure U was decided was not effectively conveyed to the residents of San Carlos — a point that Council Member Andy Klein essentially agreed with when we he graciously agreed to be interviewed on this site.  The whole 10%/20% budget cut scenario, and the prospect of outsourcing public safety did not surface until after Measure U had failed.  It’s quite possible that the voter turnout may have been larger, and the outcome possibly different if residents truly understood how dire the situation was.

Also, one could argue that pinning the responsibility of raising revenue on the shoulders of our business owners via a sales tax was a flawed approach.  The residents (and homeowners) of San Carlos reap as much or more of the benefit of public safety than do business owners, so why shouldn’t they pay for it?

How Would You Vote?

Setting aside for a moment the “how’s” and “what’s” of getting a parcel tax on the ballot in the first place, how do you feel in principle about a parcel tax if it was dedicated solely to maintaining the San Carlos Police and Fire Departments?   An example of this is the approximately $93 annual assessment that residents of Belmont currently pay to fund the Belmont Fire Protection District.     How would you vote if something similar was put on a ballot?

Time for a new poll:

Would You Pay More to Preserve the San Carlos Police and Fire Departments and Avoid Outsourcing?

View Results

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This is one of the few stones that remained unturned in this whole debate (aside from cutting costs at City Hall, which the Council seems reluctant to do.)   It should be very interesting to see what this poll tells us.
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Are San Carlos Citizens Willing to Pay (More) For Public Safety?, 3.1 out of 5 based on 5 ratings
Comments 61
  • Great post. Is there a movement at all to put another parcel tax on the ballot now that it seems that more San Carlos residents understand now just how bad our budgetary problems are? I agree with you that it didn’t seem as if everyone was fully aware of how big a problem it was back in Nov.

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    • When people first realized what the cuts would mean, there were a number of people on this blog who said they would like a chance to vote again. Then you have the people like those below who are unalterably opposed to paying more money.

      Staff and the majority of the Council are convinced that a revenue measure has no chance, especially without the support of Matt Grocott.

      I wish one side or the other would show how much support they really have.

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  • Your poll should read “Are you willing to pay more for the police in our city to wear San Carlos uniforms.”

    I still think that the Sheriff’s Office can do just as good of a job at a reduced rate.

    Before researching this topic and reading all the articles I would have supported a public safety tax. But reading how our police fought pay raises in January because they weren’t enough… and how before that they threatened that nobody of quality would work for our city when their benefits were reduced….

    I for one will vote NO on this poll and actively campaign against anything put on a ballot.

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  • I agree with Concerned.

    Before spending a lot of time understanding the budget issues, I would have supported another “small tax”, but after understanding the recent trends, the public sector (especially the safety sector) total compensation (especially the pension and retirement benefits) are not sustainable and need to be reset downwards. They were significantly increased in late 1999/2000 when the stock market and dot com era was going on and they have not been reset or scaled back like everything in the private sector. How many of you in the private sector have large pensions you can count on? I think the public sector needs to go to the self managed systems of retirement like the public sector (401K, individual savings, social security (if it exists in the future – but lets not start on that here). How many of you can retire at 55 yrs with the potential of 95% of your highest year salary (including overtime and sick/vacation time buyouts to “boost” that salary for the next ~20-25 yrs of your life). I know I probably won’t be able to retire till I am 67 yrs old or more.

    The city has had reasonable budget/revenue increases the last ~10 years and needs to learn to live within that budget (just like we all personally have to).

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    • I agree with PJ. The citizens of San Carlos are CHEAP! How many 67 year old Police and Firefighters do you see out there? Slim to none. Majority of them die to cancer and heart attacks at the age of 60. It is a very stressful job. Take away pensions and pay and what do you have? Not an employee who wants to work in our city. These people risk their lives!

      To work for the city of San Carlos and be compensated for the same job as a grocery store clerk. Hmmm……. what would you pick? To be shot at, or run into a burning building? Grocery Store Clerk and do nothing. You get what you pay for!

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      • This is once of the most ridiculous lies I have ever seen posted on this blog. The reason you don’t see any 67 yr. old firefighters or police officers is because they are all retired. They are not allowed to work in non-management positions after a certain time. Also, the CalPers actuary study from 2007 showed that public safety employees on average live to be 81 yrs old!!! The dying early because they work public safety is a lie perpetuated by public unions to argue for increased benefits!!!!

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      • a- don’t lie to try to win your argument.

        That is a myth (debunked by CALPERS study/actuarial data) that anyone trying to justify the larger pension for safety employees states. Public Safety employees live as long as others (and have larger pensions and retire earlier (avg age 55 yrs old and then live off their taxpayer funded pension for the next 25 – 30 years). Check the link below for example (or Google others of your choice).

        http://www.davisvanguard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2977:calpers-debunks-myth-of-shorter-life-expectancy-for-safety-employees&Itemid=79

        I am in favor and police and fire employees, but not anymore than teachers and other highly valued professionals (scientists,…). — so why should just safety employees get such a long retirement? Teaching in a classroom is also very stressful.

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        • I think that people should look at this reasonably. Do police and firefighters have a good reitrement…Yes. Most also pay for it by giving a portion of their salaries back to the city they work for. They also do extremely dangerous jobs. Most people I know do not run the risk of being killed, injured, or catching a disease everytime they perform a job function. As for the early retirement age, yes they can retire at 50 sometimes, but they only get a high percentage of their pay if they have worked for 30 years at that profession. There is no magic bullet to the budget situation, but to say that their wages should go back to 10 year ago levels come on. In the private sector when I job hopped and got 10-15% raises and stock options I am pretty sure that police and firefighters were not increasing their compensation at that rate. Just something to think about.

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          • Anon, reasonable consideration? Surely you jest! These guys don’t want to hear it.

            Thanks for trying.

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  • I totally agree with Anonymous and Concerned and think that Chuck poses a false choice when he asks if we are willing to pay more to maintain public safety. We shouldn’t have to make such a choice until we have fully addressed the bloated employee compensation structure for our municipal employees. We should be able to recruit quality police and fire employees without paying the lavish benefits(particularly pensions) that don’t exist today in the private sector any longer. We should be able to maintain a police force that is quality but less costly. Even Willie Brown, the former San Francisco Mayor and Assembly Speaker who enjoyed public sector union support most of his career, has come out publicly and stated that California public employee pensions are not sustainable and must be reduced before the pension funds eat up too much of state, county and city budgets or alternatively force state and local governments to not fully fund their pensions (by the way the later is illegal so that means the state and local governments will have to devote more and more of their precious dollars to prevent pensions from being under funded).

    Employee costs are north of 80% of a city’s budget. As a former city worker, I value the work of municipal employees, especially police and fire, but public sector unions are out of sync with what is happening in the economy today. We in the private sector have had salary cuts, freezes, ect, as well as disruptions in 401K employer matchesm during the past two years. City workers on the other hand are often still getting raises based on contracts signed before the economic downturn.

    When absoultely forced to make reductions because of gapping city budget deficits, the public employee unions, particularly police and fire, fight furiously against eliminating planned salary increases even in these difficult times. I have noted in cities such as Oakland and San Jose, the police and fire unions will vote for lay-offs rather than across the board salary freezes. Lay-offs are usually only for a few junior police officers or fire fighters – say 10% of the force. The unions are usually controlled by officers and fire fighters with lots of seniority. I personally think it is criminal that these veteran officers usually vote to lay off their “young” to protect their salary increases (eating their young is the best phrase to describe it). I have watched this happen and it sickens me that senior police and fire employees aren’t willing to forego a raise to protect their younger colleagues as well as do their part to keep more police on the streets and fire fighters on call.

    So back to Chuck’s quesiton – instead of asking if we are willing to pay more, I think we need to look at really taking on the unions to demand a more reasonable cost for the services that their members provide us. There is a lot of talk of a new “lesser” pension deal for new hires – I say don’t stop there, why not existing workers. I realize we can’t touch what has been contractually promised to existing city workers going backward. If you worked as an San Carlos Police Officer for 10 years you are entitled to the pension formula that has existed during that time for those first 10 years. However, going forward the same police officer should not expect the same overly generous pension formula for the next 20 years of his or her 30 year career. What has been promised up until now must be honored, but not for the next 20 years as well once the officer is duly notified of the changes going forward. This is exactly what my company did when it disbanded its defined benefit pension system a few years ago. It is only fair.

    If such a restructuring of the city employee compensation system is done as I describe above, then I think that Chuck can legitimately ask if we are willing to pay more for police and fire. I think many of us may be willing to pay more, but that question is totally premature until the City really takes a different stance with the unions that represent many of the city’s workers, especially police and fire.

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    • Evan,

      While I don’t think I’m posing a “false” question, I certainly agree that it’s a massively oversimplified one. Just the process of getting a dedicated measure like this on the ballot is complicated, let alone all of the ramifications that surround a parcel tax for public safety. What I’m really trying to understand is the how people feel about the “principle” raising money to keep these departments in place, not necessarily the how’s and what’s of making it all happen.

      I very begrudgingly voted in favor of Measure U, with many of the same reservations you cited above. My distaste for even higher taxes was only surpassed by the prospect of imminent and massive service cuts. But the City Council is likely going to render a decision on this matter in just a few weeks, and the prospect of taking one more run at raising revenue should at least be looked at in theory, because once the decision is made to outsource, it won’t matter anymore.

      Thanks for your comment.

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    • 100% agree with Evan. All the SC city employee (not just new employees – which there are not many of BTW) pensions should be significantly reduced or eliminated in favor of a defined cost or 401K type of plan. Whatever is earned is earned, but we must make reductions going forward (actually at all levels of CA government , city, county, state,…). This is what the private sector has done over the last 10-20 years.

      I have asked the SC city council about this. I don’t understand why more of the employee labor negotiations cannot be made more public (since it is all our tax money paying for these salaries and benefits) and part of this overall budget study. It also bothers me that the head labor negotiator is a city employee himself (as I understand it) — seems like a large conflict of interest to me.

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    • Evan,

      What do the actions of Oakland and San Jose public safety employees have to do with San Carlos? I know our firefighters have foregone pay increases to avoid layoffs.

      How about asking the desk jockeys to work until they’re 67, instead of 55?

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  • While I do completely respect Chuck’s opinions and his effort to represent this community, I am unsure that he represents ALL of San Carlos. He notes that nearly 60% of those polled do nopt support outsourcing of police and fire.

    Ironically, there is the exact same poll on another blog where 71% of those polled DO favor outsourcing. Look in the right colum of this blog for the results of the poll.

    http://keepsancarlosparksopen.blogspot.com/

    It’s not a black and white issue, but I’m getting a little tired of reading on this blog that the City Council is out of sync with the community. It may be out of sync with the people who happen to follow this blog, But, like with any blog, it is not representative of the wider community. It is simply one of many opinions around these very pressing issues.

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    • Anonymous,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ll be the first to admit without hesitation that this site does not represent all of San Carlos. Readership has been pretty good, but not THAT good! While I thought it was pretty clear at the outset of the post that I was referring just to the poll that was conducted on the site, it is worth noting that other polls that have been conducted on this site have mirrored public sentiment pretty closely, whether by coincidence or otherwise. Only last year, the poll that ran on this site correctly predicted the failure of Measure U (almost to the actual percentage of the actual vote), despite the fact that city-hired consultants incorrectly predicted the opposite. And another poll correctly pegged the outcome of the most recent education revenue initiative as well.

      Keep San Carlos Parks Open is an excellent blog, and I’m aware of the poll they’re running on there as well. It’s interesting to note, though, that our City Manager has clearly pitted one entity versus the other with regards to budget cuts — either outsource police and fire, or face park closures. Since that’s the only option we’ve really been given, it’s no surprise that a poll on a site that’s dedicated to preserving our parks would reflect such a sentiment. In fact, I’m actually surprised it’s not a little higher in favor of outsourcing for just that reason.

      The issue is indeed very complex, as you correctly stated. And it appears a decision will be rendered on this complex issue in the coming weeks. Should be very interesting!

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  • Answer: No, they’re not. I think that’s pretty obvious. The idea that somehow the community is going to tax themselves now that they know how bad it is happens to be wrong. They know how bad it is; they just don’t want to tax themselves…period.

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  • Yes, I would pay more. I would also pay for parks and libraries and schools and all the things I don’t use. But when you want to cut public safety, my support for all those other things goes out the window. The poll on the save the parks blog asks whether people would support outsourcing if there is “no degredation in police and fire response time or coverage.” That’s a big “if,” and skews the results.

    Obviously, no one speaks for all of San Carlos. It is too bad that we don’t have access to a poll of all segments of the population, but we don’t. Citizens cannot put a tax measure on the ballot, only the Council can. Citizens can put other measures on the ballot with a little more than 3,000 signatures and jumping through some hoops. If you want a measure on the ballot in November, you should start now.

    Alternatively, if you gather 3,000 signatures, the Council might listen to what you want because that’s almost enough to get someone elected, or recalled. On the other hand, some of the present Council might still not listen. They seem to think they are not responsible to anyone but themselves.

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  • Just sell Crestview Park and the Community Center and there will some money to reduce the deficit.

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  • I am confused.
    How is a sales tax a tax on business owners? Business owners do not pay the sales tax, the consumers do. Unless of course you believe business owners will reduce the cost of their goods by the amount of any sales tax increase – which I doubt.
    You appear to suggest a property tax is the “fairer” way to go.
    Why should ONLY property owners pay additional taxes?
    What about residents who are not property owners, don’t they use the same City services as do property owners?
    As many other commenters have stated, City employee compensation has continued to increase despite the recession.
    Let’s start with lower compensation packages for City employees and see where we end up.

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  • Yes, I would pay more in taxes for a police force, schools, and any other critical community needs.

    IMO, given the revenue limits of Prop 13 and, yes, the high costs of everything, paying extra in taxes is something you just need to do if you want to live in a good community within California.

    I certainly understand and second the disappointment that our city is not more aggressive in identifying and eliminating waste. To proceed on a city-wide effort to cut costs as aggressively as they want and not even tee up symbolic costs is bad politics at best and incompetence at worst.

    But I think residents need to rise above the emotion and frustration of local politics if they want to live in a community that reflects important shared values.

    Last week 80% of Palo Alto voters approved a 6-year $589 annual tax for schools and 75% of Menlo Park voters approved $565 7-year annual tax. We had to fight tooth and nail to pass a what, $75 tax for schools? Does this community really value education at 1/8th of what those communities do? Or does sending a message to City Hall trump all other community needs?

    Again, I would love it if City Hall or the City Council stepped up and showed some leadership and shared sacrifice here. But I’m not going to hold my breath and I don’t think we as a community should count on that happening. If there are things that are important to us as a community — schools, parks, safety/security — then we need to vote and to open our wallets to ensure that’s not given away. In the long run, these investments increase our quality of life and build equity in our homes.

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    • I am the Anonymous that has agreed with Concerned and Evan above regarding cutting SC employee costs as part of the way to fix the budget problem together with regionalization and/or outsourcing (selecting whichever proposals that will work best for our city and hopefully we continue to get more proposal options to choose from over the next several weeks).

      JJ – have you spent time following the details of the SC budget process and large increases in costs over the last 10+ years (many due to city significant union secured employee raises (when the economy is in recession and there is less city revenue streams and private sector total compensation has decreased quite a bit), overtime pay, and unsustainable pension plans (especially safety employees) and significant other benefits (medical, sick/vacation buyouts, …). These costs need to be brought down or we will keep having to have tax increase after tax increase and still have to cut the city services to the residents significantly.

      This is not the place for an extended discussion on the school budget, but the School Budget situation is very different situation than the current city budget (although also brought on by the recession and messed up CA state budgeting). I have young kids in the SC schools and have followed their budget crisis even more closely (1 year earlier). The schools are getting very little funding per pupil from the state (compared to anything: previous CA funding, other state funding levels,…) and the funding levels have decreased quite a bit over the last several years. I value the teacher very highly (as I do police/fire BTW), but teachers do not get overly paid, do not get overtime, and do not get the unsustainable pension plans that police and fire personnel have. So for me, I definitely support paying more at this time for the school system to ensure we educate our kids (which are our future) well.

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      • Anon,

        I don’t know how carefully JJ has followed the City’s budget, but I have attended nearly every Council meeting and Fire Board meeting for the past 5 years. I have been at the budget study sessions every year, not just this year.

        I think it is obvious that compensation for public employees needs to be looked at carefully, but I do not support draconian cuts. The comparison of public employees to comployees in the private sector is not entirely valid. It makes more sense to look at public employees and their compensation separately and develop a sustainable compensation plan.

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    • JJ,

      Thank you again for your wise words. I think you’re right about paying more, but I think there are things we can do to change the way our City is run. First, we need candidates like you to run for Council. Unless there’s a recall this November, the next election is November 2011, when both Omar’s and Randy’s seats will be open. If we can fill those two seats with smart, thoughtful people who know how to work with others it will turn the Council around.

      I have always believed that speaking out could make a difference, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the majority of this Council. That doesn’t mean we should stop, but I’m not holding my breath either.

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  • The other JJ expresses his disappointment (and rightly so) that the city “is not more agressive in identifying and eliminatinbg waste” and that he does not expect City Hall or City Council to show any leadership or shared sacrifice.

    Why on earth, then, would I agree to give yet more tax $ to the city???!!!!!!! So that the city can yet again spend & spend while failing to cut waste, and failing to provide any leadership/ sacrifice – and then a yr from now crying for another round of tax increases??????

    Sorry, but given the blantant failures of city hall, agreeing to thow more and more of my $$ down this hole is insane.

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    • Other JJ,

      I keep hearing about waste and mismanagement. Can you be more specific?

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  • Other JJ-

    It’s not insane if you recognize that this is our community and the alternative of doing nothing hurts all of us who live here.

    We have a real financial problem in this city that is threatening the very core of why people choose to live here — good schools, safe community, high quality of life. We can have honest debates about the source and solutions for those problems. But at the end of the day, are people going to be part of the solution or part of the problem?

    I’ve been following this blog since the Measure U discussion and am discouraged by the number of people content to simply strongly opine about the sources and solutions of these problems but not actually willing to do anything about it other than say “no” to everything. This isn’t some abstract politial issue about big government or government efficiencies — this is about real issues in the community we live in. While it may be cathartic, IMO, it’s not enough for people to come on a blog and blast local officials and pay structures. IMO, either you vote that we pay more for the things we value or you spend the time to seriously research the issues, develop options, and organize the community to support those options. It’s not hard to come on here and say “cut pay”…the legwork is doing the research to compare salaries and staffing structures accross the Bay Area, become educated on collective bargaining arrangements, and garner enough community support to push through a realistic solution. Outside of spending a minute conducting a half-hearted google search or skimming the paper, has any one of the complainers actually done something at a grassroots level to educate themselves and cause change in their community? If someone were to take on such an effort, I think it would be great. But of course, that would require a lot of work and sacrfice that likely would far exceed the whatever $ sacrifice is on the ballot.

    I personally don’t have the time, expertise, or inclination to do that legwork. So while I can disagree with City Hall’s approach and wish they would make more sacfricies and do more outreach and education on the constraints of restructuring contracts, I recongize that withholding financial support of this city doesn’t punish them, it punishes me and my neighbors. Towns like Palo Alto and Menlo Park don’t take that approach, even though I’m sure many would have complaints about their local government.

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  • JJ, I think the reason the last parcel tax was so hard to pass was the very reason it was on there to begin with…San Carlos homeowners don’t believe that giving more money to entities that consistently mismanage it is not the answer. It has nothing to do with whether or not education is valued (which it clearly is). Speaking for myself, when voters say no to new taxes, they are telling the city “leaders” that they need to solve the problem another way besides asking us to hand out more money.

    What exacty do our property taxes cover and are we not correct in expecting BASIC services to be provided for that money.

    And why is Prop 13 so sacred?? Let the seniors that can afford to pay more kick in. Are we even giving them the opportunity or perpetually protecting them from EVER having to pay to support the higher cost to maintain our city (and I acknowledge costs have indeed increased since 1976). To expect the rest of us to shoulder any increases and allow the longtime prop 13 recipients to be exempted time after time, tax after tax is patently unfair and unsustainable.

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  • What it comes down to is that a large majority of SC residents are CHEAP. I agree about the pensions and everything else about employees reducing their own costs, but when comes the point when people realize government is not free? We are not entitled. If we want our children to have quality educations, we must now pay. If we want quality police and fire service, we must now pay. Did we have to 30 years ago? Probably not, but 30 years ago, officers didn’t come out for barking dogs or neighbors fighting over petty things with neighbors. Government was not mandated to do half of the things they are required to do now. 30 years ago, the economy wasn’t in a worldwide downfall. You get what you pay for and right now, SC residents don’t want to pay.

    Good luck.

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    • I disagree with PJ’s last sentence – “you get what you pay for” – we should be able to get what we need for a lot less if we have smart, tough city negotiators who aren’t going to buckle to strong union pressure to maintain and grow city employee salaries/benefits/pensions. It doesn’t make me cheap if I don’t go to Saks Fifth Avenue and buy something for full price but rather check around other stores to see if I can get the same quality for a bit less.

      I am not adverse to paying more in taxes to maintain the quality of life that attracted my wife and I to San Carlos in the first place. I just don’t want to write a blank check which it seems we have been doing in Calfiornia for too long.

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    • I agree. The people I hear complaining about paying taxes are the ones who are actually doing quite well. Larry King says if you’re paying a lot in taxes it means you’re making good money, so stop complaining. I think he has a point.

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      • Pat,

        I don’t think you have any possible way to know the financial state of anyone on this blog and relate it to their comments. Do you also know how much they donate to charity, what they do to support other family members, college obligations and a wealth of other reasons people who are doing “well” are against paying more??

        If those who are doing well express the aversion to paying more taxes, perhaps it’s because they actually see themselves possibly retiring someday on thier own without being a burden on society.

        But when opinions, such as the ones you express chastising those who work hard and want to use the fruits of their labor to better their own lives and those around them, try to demonize those people as cheap and selfish, then you have no clear understanding of this situation.

        Clearly we have had more conservative spending in the past and especially in these times, we need to tilt more toward that type of philosophy on spending.

        When our city leaders try to spead more cement on a crumbling wall, it does not address the crumbling wall beneath it.

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  • If you give the city – or any government body – more money, they will spend it. When they had extra money circa 1999 they flushed our future away with lavish pay packages, rather than conservatively planning for less prosperous times. We have city managers making upwards of $200k. If you bail them out now via tax hikes, parcel takes, etc. what guarantee do you have that they’ll actually responsibly prepare for the future? Given the City of San Carlos has more income than ever before and yet is more broke than ever before, only the most naive person will imagine this problem won’t simply occur again and again. Cuts lead to long term health, cash infusions maintain the broken status quo. The rest of the country is waking up, maybe we can too.

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    • As City income has risen, so have the services they provide. This City spends much, much more on Parks and Rec than most cities. There are many things the City is required by the State and Federal government to do. One of the latest is getting the pollution out of storm water so that it doesn’t end up in the bay. Of course, you could refuse to do that but then you’d be fined more than it costs to do the cleanup. It is naive to just look at the increase in income without looking at where it’s going.

      City workers should be paid appropriately and should have a secure, sustainable retirement system. That doesn’t mean they need 2.7 at 55, but you can’t expect them to work for us for a lot less than other cities pay.

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  • Evan, I agree with you; and PJ, we are not getting what we are paying for. I think most of us paying between $10,000-$20,000 in annual property taxes expect acceptable quality city services. To be constantly asked to pay more, then accused of being cheap when we say no, is unfair to say the least. If anything, the no’s are the voices of reason and forcing alternative thinking to occur.

    Money is only part of the answer to the problems. The core discretion when it comes to spending the money is flawed and needs to be addressed, otherwise we will never dig ourselves out of this hole.

    We are living in one of the most progressive and innovatiive parts of the world…where are those innovative thinkers when it comes to government leaders?? Absent in San Carlos from where I sit.

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    • If you’re paying that much in property taxes, you’re living in a $1-2 million home; you are not poor. I agree that you should get quality services, which costs about 6-7% more each year.

      I’m not sure what “The core discretion when it comes to spending the money is flawed and needs to be addressed” means. I do think our Council should be more involved in what staff is doing, not just sitting as a board of directors and letting the City Manager run things, then rubber-stamping his recommendations. At the County, State, and Federal levels, I can go to my representative and have him/her look into why an employee is doing this or that, whether it’s legal and proper, whether we need to change something. Our Council will not do that; they don’t think it’s their job to intervene on behalf of a citizen, or to question whether we’re getting our money’s worth from a consultant hired by staff.

      I think there’s an argument to be made for taxation without meaningful representation. If that’s what you mean, I agree.

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      • Pat — If you think that a 6-7% annual increase in city costs is acceptable when city revenue has been increasing <2% (or even flat) and when overall state and national inflation is <2-3% last several years, that is the basic cause of the current budget issue and it is not sustainable. You cannot keep increasing taxes to cover the budget shortfall year after year. The city council understands this. The biggest cost in the budget is the city employee costs and they need to reduce them, just like happens (and has happened over the last several years) in the private sector when businees revenue goes down, the business must cut costs somehow (the good businesses find a way to innovate or work smarter) or go out of business. It is now time for SC to innovate (regoinalize/contract safety AND also reduce city employee pension/benefits) and be more cost effective in providing city services. Public employee total compesation/benefits is going to go down across many city and CA state levels as it is causing budget issues all over the place.

        Did you read about the bad financial situation in Greece/Europe? It is similar to what is happening across the US and a foreshadowing to our future if we do not reign in the government spending increases that are above revenue increases.

        From a NY Times article yesterday "It’s easy to look at the protesters and the politicians in Greece — and at the other European countries with huge debts — and wonder why they don’t get it. They have been enjoying more generous government benefits than they can afford. …

        Yet in the back of your mind comes a nagging question: how different, really, is the United States?

        The numbers on our federal debt are becoming frighteningly familiar. The (US) debt is projected to equal 140 percent of gross domestic product within two decades. Add in the budget troubles of state governments, and the true shortfall grows even larger. Greece’s debt, by comparison, equals about 115 percent of its G.D.P. today."

        What do you have to say about this?

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        • Anon-

          I don’t know what Pat would say about your post, but here’s what I say — you should read the entire paper. If you did, you’d come across Paul Krugman’s Friday column on that exact topic, fittingly entitled “We’re Not Greece”

          http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/14/opinion/14krugman.html

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          • Krugman’s relevance sort of faded out when he lost a president to bash and blame. Though he’s still trying in this article. Forget every American owes $200K+ and that the ‘entitlements’ eat our defense budget for breakfast (without even including the true picture of the SS and other obligations). Everything’s ok – so long as you emulate Europe and embrace higher taxes on those awful rich people.

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          • Believe what you want, but across all levels of government, continuous deficits are piling on more and more debt that is not sustainable for our future (or worse yet – consider it the debt we will be passing on to our future generations).

            The point is, government cannot keep spending more than it takes in (it can for the short term during a recession and to stimulate the economy out of a depression, but not year after year after year). Something needs to change and I believe we are at that point in SC. And I agree we need a paradigm shift and cannot tax ourselves out of the current situation/trend.

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      • Pat,

        The only thing you may be right about is that i am not poor. But if I were “rich”, I’d probably be living in Hillsborough or Atherton. Frankly, by using the word “rich”, it makes you sound ingnorant because its very defintion is rather vague. Would you care to venture defining “rich” to the rest of us?

        There are a good number of San Carlos homes that have sold in the past 10 years for $1-2 million dollars and you should just say thank you…because we have been paying the lion’s share of the property taxes in this city. According to Zillow.com, the average home value in San Carlos is $841,700…it doesn’t take much to live in a million dollar home here. Can you imagine the revenue that could be raised if ALL the “rich” people were paying their share?

        And if we are living in “expensive” homes, that does not necessarily make us rich. I bought my first condo with $15,000 10 years ago and have made good decisions, but we still have a mortgage and we have to pay it every month. We are not sitting on a pile of cash in the bank. We work every day and pay our bills. I don’t think that makes me or the rest of us you refer to as “rich”. Perhaps that will be true if I ever sell my house?

        Whether you have the money to pay more or not, has nothing to do with your views. Shall we just tax everyone so much until we can no longer afford to stay here and have to sell?This is just another example of your many generalizations that make your arguments less than credible.

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      • Pat, so we don’t have a vote until someone or some thing judges we’re poor enough? Only the poor people have a say? Gee that sounds like a certain kind of ideology.

        The government works for the people, not the other way around. The people of San Carlos are not custodians for the welfare of severely compensated, un-fire-able public ‘servants’. If we can’t afford them, we can’t afford them, and if we have to go to court to renege on things we should have never promised, so be it. $10k+ yearly out of every house in SC is PLENTY to run a small community if spent wisely. And that doesn’t change whether every San Carlos-ian is scraping by, or has $1M in the bank.

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  • Good luck, have fun policing yourselves….let’s just hope Obama doesn’t take that right away from you……this is what you want, so this is what you will get!

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  • anon, where did you get the idea that contracting police and fire out will result in self-policing (read: we will have no protection). It is far from my ideal situation for San Carlos, but do you really believe that once the transition has been made, we will be doing the work ourselves? And Obama is going to take rights away from us??

    There’s a lot of paranoid hyperbole on this blog.

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    • Great post, Michael. Paranoid hyperbole really hits the nail on the head. It’s all a conspiracy you know.

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  • The question should be: Are San Carlos Citizens Willing to Pay for Any Sevices. With a median home price of over $800,000 it shocks me that parks are kept in such lush conditions…for FREE. Parents can send their chiildren to the Youth Center for…FREE childcare. Anyone can park downtown…for FREE. I could go on and on.

    There is a revenue problem in this City, period. Has the City and it’s management run things into the ground? Absolutely. But to blame pubic safety, and the PERS retirement system, is a joke. There are plenty of cities less affluent than San Carlos that have little to no budget shortfall, and gues what, they have their own Police and Fire services. They are also one tier (3% at 50) cities, unlike San Carlos, where there are second tier (3% at 55) employees.

    So go ahead and fire away at some of the lowest paid public safety employees in the entire Bay Area, while they continue to do an outstanding job for everyone here. It seems like everyone is willing to outsource safety, so that free child care and green grass (or fake grass) can remain. Someone has to pay to keep the level of service that these citizens expect. This is 2010, not 1980, or the dotcom era anymore. The days of this City giving and giving has created a sense of entitlement that is really getting to be disgusting.

    Just remember that you never really appreciate public safety until you need it. Then you will miss your own hometown Police and Firefighters.

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    • BRAVO!

      I wish you had signed your name, but I understand not wanting to have the paranoid conspiracy theorists to know who you are.

      I love Michael’s phrase, “paranoid hyperbole.”

      Where are the rating stars? I want to give this one 5 stars.

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  • Pat,
    Either you are confused at my reference or you’re just purposely trying to pick a fight. Giving you the benefit of the doubt that you actually understood my reference, I choose not to respond to your childish post.

    Those of us that take these exchanges seriously don’t understand the pleasure you seem to get by making these abbreviated and infantile comments.

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    • I AM confused. I’ve been agreeing with you and you’re accusing me of trying to pick a fight. Are there two Michaels?

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  • According to the San Carlos Education Foundation, the average ASSESSED home value in San Carlos is only $400,000.

    I agree with Michael — “There are a good number of San Carlos homes that have sold in the past 10 years for $1-2 million dollars and you should just say thank you…because we have been paying the lion’s share of the property taxes in this city.”

    Clearly, the property tax revenues are insufficient, because the assessed values are too low, thanks to prop. 13. I just don’t see what there is to argue about, except long-term homeowners in San Carlos are getting a pass.

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    • I’m no fan of Prop 13, even though I am a beneficiary of the free pass mentioned. So you know what? I make up my share by providing direct financial support to the community institutions and causes I believe in. Please don’t paint all of us long-term homeowners with the same broad brush; many of us care deeply about quality of life issues in SC and back it up with our checkbooks. One could even argue that financial support to SCEF, for example, trumps higher taxes in that one knows where the money is going and how it is being spent.

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  • I do not think it is fair to keep blaming the long-term homeowners in this town. I know I frequent downtown as much as I can to help our wonderful City, but, cannot afford these upscale restaurants. Believe me, if they reverse prop 13, what are the ramifications for people that have to rent? Landlords would have to compensate and drive rents up. Would it hurt our property values if people had to sell and there would be more homes on the market than buyers? Don’t assume there will be plenty of buyers for San Carlos because with people systematically walking away from their underwater homes, getting loans will be much tougher than it is today. Be careful what you wish for. What happens if they reverse prop 13 and five years later there is another shortfall? Then what?

    Maybe we should start looking at all the people in this town that hire nannies and housecleaners. Are they paying these employees under the table, or, are these employees paying there fair share of income taxes? Life isn’t fair. But, we cannot keep blaming and pointing fingers. We must stop our local out of control spending, and re-think these generous pensions. I think when that happens, if a ballot measure were proposed for a new tax , it would pass.

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  • Here’s another question: If there were an election today, how many people would vote for the guys who are running things now?

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    • Pat, good question. I’m a believer in the phrase that things need to get worse before they get better. So long as we can squeak by and patch things up I think people will continue to vote for the status quo while letting our situation sink and sink. It’s when things get out of hand and that magic word ‘sustainability’ comes along that great changes happen. I think most people would look at public servant pay, entitlements, tax burdens (sales, state, property, federal, SS, gasoline) and environmental over-reactivity (e.g. SC’s Bay Cleanup burden) and think mistakes have been made. But until now they have been cajoled into silence in the name of political correctness, social justice, ‘fairness’ and Earth-worship. In this way I think it’s an exciting time of promise where people realize that we can’t simply burden earners and companies to an infinite degree while giving governments and their employees blank checks and special treatment. Who knows, maybe we’ll actually embrace the idea of enticing people to start companies that produce wealth and locate them in California/San Carlos. Maybe we’ll actually embark on a economically sustainable future where deficits and debts are not simply ignored. Maybe there will be a day when we wake up without a $200,000 debt burden on every American to pay for things they never received or really wanted their government to buy. Maybe.

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      • So, Matt, would you vote for this Council our do we need new people? That was my question.

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        • Pat, I don’t know enough about them, to tell you the truth. Until this year I never really knew who any of these people were or what they stood for. And to be honest, I think they – as well as local congresspeople like Jackie Speier – bank on ignorance and auto-voting by party affinity. I also think in the short term they will not be able to bank on that, because with issues like bankruptcy, out of control spending and (in Jackie’s case) health care rage their names, personalities, opinions and actions are suddenly imprinted on people.

          Mr. Grocott – whom seems to be a target for people on boards like this – is the only one I’ve talked to personally, and I like that he’s aligned with ‘starving the beast’ more than stealing food from the less-vicious townspeople to keep the beast sated. That alone gains my vote.

          I’ve sat in one council meeting – the rest all seem cordial, intelligent and reasonable but that’s no basis for a judgment. I guess the onus is on them – if they project their intentions and actions and I agree with them, they’ll get my vote. If I never hear from them in any way I’m likely to assume they want to maintain the status quo and vote otherwise.

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          • Interesting. With all the dissatisfaction being expressed, no one is ready to fire the Councilmen, just the City Manager.

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  • Can anyone explain why the Assistant City Managers position is needed in a small town like San Carlos? What are his job responsibilities verses the City Manager? I went to a meeting where he spoke and it just sounded like he was a repeater for the City Manger who by the way was very hard to understand. Not to be harsh but between the Mayor and the two City Managers the meeting was like a three ring circus. We moved to San Carlos last year and resently got into the political scene here. If we knew SC was so poorly managed we would have bought in Belmont.

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    • Barbara, great post; welcome to the fray. You are not the only person who thinks SC is poorly run; I recently heard from an experienced observer: I don’t know what happened to San Carlos, it used to be such a well run city.

      Could it be that the make up of the city council changed last November and we got a new Mayor? The City Manager works for the council and the rest of the staff works for the City Manager, so the buck stops with the council.

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      • Ha! Well run before? When? 12 yrs ago? How long have you lived in town Pat? San Carlos has been running a defecit for 11 yrs. It is only recently that they stopped trying to hide it. This town has been poorly run for a long time, atleast now they are facing the facts that we are broke. You don’t like the decisions the council is making, but atleast they aren’t trying to hide how dire the situation is.

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        • I was quoting someone else, not expressing my opinion. How the town is seen by others around the county is important too.

          I have criticized the City Manager for not publicizing this mess sooner, but the bottom line is he works for the council.

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  • Can we now put this subject to rest? Chuck has mentioned many times how his last poll predicted the failure of Measure U. Well this poll predicts that a new tax measure would not pass with a 2/3s majority. For whatever reasons, San Carlans will not give anymore money to the city.

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