Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Pensions/Salaries Drive Budgets

In this story from the Sacramento Bee, the cost of supporting current and former public employees is striking.

An excerpt.

“The cost of public employee pensions is about to hit City Hall even harder.

“Due in large part to a 2008 CalPERS investment loss, the city will have to add $5 million to its annual payment into the retirement system this year, budget officials said this week.

“That number will eventually increase to an additional $16 million four years from now.

“The timing couldn't be worse.

“City Hall is facing a deficit of between $35 million and $40 million for the upcoming fiscal year in its general fund budget, which pays for police officers, firefighters, parks and most other city services, officials told the City Council on Tuesday.

“That gap represents roughly 20 percent of the city's discretionary spending.

“While not all of the estimated $53 million the city will pump into the pension system this year will come from the general fund, the extra $5 million contribution will, budget officials said.

“The new pension contributions come as the city enters its fifth straight budget cycle dealing with a deficit.

“Over the past four years, City Hall has addressed more than $180 million in cumulative deficits through service cuts, layoffs, labor union concessions and one-time fixes.

“Budget officials warned that the options for solving this year's gap are few.

“The city's "rainy day" fund has gone from $30 million to $10.5 million. Other one-time revenue sources such as parking cash that in the past have avoided cuts to Fire Department staffing and pool hours make up "a short list," Assistant City Manager Patti Bisharat said.

“Past deficits have also resulted in some department budgets being cut in half and 900 positions getting cut from the payroll. With less left to cut, "this year is going to be the most difficult" of the downturn, Bisharat said.

"The fact of the matter is we're not going to be able to do everything that we're currently doing," Bisharat said in an interview. "We've said that before, but we've eliminated some things and I think everyone has been trying to hang on, hoping it would get better."

“The deficit is a result of stagnant revenue sources – mostly sales and property taxes – and growing expenses, including salaries and benefits, according to a budget report.

“Budget officials said that 79.6 percent of the city's bankroll pays for labor, up from about 70 percent just a few years ago.”