Friday, July 23, 2010

Never Let a Tragedy Go To Waste - Local Version UPDATE

The tragic choking death of a two year old, purportedly because of slow paramedic response due to rolling brownouts of firefighting station "brownouts" is being used to push a half cent sales tax increase on the city. You can judge for yourself if the brownout was significant by viewing the linked time line. That local politicians would choose to do so is both highly cynical and sadly typical. I did not use a picture of the deceased for illustration, because this issue is really about the two illustrations pictured, a new library and new city hall. At a time when the city council is making plans for a new city hall and a new central library, claiming that the tax increase is necessary for firefighting and paramedic services is demonstrably false.

First, by refusing to make any progress on managed competition, or outsourcing, the council has failed to reap available savings. As I posted earlier, it was no coincidence that the proposal for the half cent sales tax increase surfaced on the same day as the proposed initiative to force more outsourcing failed to make the ballot.

Second, the manner in which the firefighters are paid needs to be examined. Carl DeMaio, a personal hero of mine, lays out the excessive pay and overtime in the fire department itself in the following article.

The salary list also demonstrates excessive compensation across the city's Fire Department, which is represented by what is arguably the city's most powerful union. In fact, firefighters comprise nearly half the membership in the “$100,000 Club” at City Hall. When comp overtime is factored into total compensation, the number of firefighters receiving net compensation value of more than $100,000 a year jumps to 371 – that's 40 percent of the active city firefighters earning six figures or more.

Of the firefighters who made the “$100,000 Club,” many ended up taking in between $35,000 and $45,000 in overtime during one year. One fire engineer alone was awarded $74,028 in overtime.

Michael Stetz in the Union-Tribune also looks into this issue.

In 2006, our newspaper reported how four San Diego fire officials did this nifty trick: They moved up to higher-paying top management positions for a year or two, then went back to their old jobs. That boosted their pensions by as much as $30,000 a year. For one, it kicked up his pension to $133,000 a year.

In 2008, the third- and fourth-highest paid city employees were fire battalion chiefs who earned $228,000 and $209,000, respectively — more than the police chief.

In 2009, our newspaper reported how 1,560 city employees made more than $100,000 annually during the previous year. Nearly one-third of those happened to be fire department employees.
Maybe the answer to the city's firefighting budget woes would be to pay far less overtime, and use the savings to hire entry level firefighters, reducing the number of engines that must be idled. The monumental waste evident in the fire department, as evidenced above, is a clear indicator that almost any reasonable management review could wring savings that would boost protection for the citizens who pay their salaries.

Local governments have a long history of reducing vital services when faced with tax revolts. Now that we have an active tea party movement, we won't let them get away with this.


Temple of Mut has her own take on the situation and calls into question the timing of tieing a toddler's death to the brownouts. She provides convenient email addresses to contact your local council member.

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