Push On To Alter SB City Charter Provision That Elevates Safety Pay

(August 3)  SAN BERNARDINO—When San Bernardino’s voters approved a change to the city’s charter that guaranteed police and firefighter salaries will be equal to the average of ten  similarly sized cities in California, the city was in a position to be generous, with a thriving business community generating sales tax revenue.
But in the intervening years, San Bernardino’s financial condition has worsened, with unemployment increasing, businesses closing and the city this week proceeding with a bankruptcy filing, putting it in the same category of other California fiscal pariahs such as Vallejo, Stockton and Mammoth Lakes.
Also contained in Charter Section 186, which was most recently adjusted in 2006, is a commitment giving police officers the right to retire at the age of 50 and begin pulling an annual pension that is equal to their highest yearly pay times three percent times the number of years that particular officer worked for the department.
Now, city officials maintain they need the flexibility of being able to pay all of their employees at a rate that is consistent with the city’s means. Consequently, they want to do away with Charter Section 186, and free themselves up to pay their police and firefighters at whatever rate those employees’ bargaining units can be induced to agree to.
Some city officials, in conjunction with a group calling itself Save San Bernardino, are advocating that a citywide voter initiative be placed on the ballot that rescinds Charter Section 186. A citywide vote on the issue is needed because Charter Section 186 was enacted by initiative and can only be changed by initiative.
Achieving that goal as an indigenous movement would be nearly impossible, because advocates of the initiative would need to garner the valid signatures of 10 percent of the city’s voters by August 10 to qualify the measure for the ballot. The only other alternative is for the city council to use its authority to place the initiative on the ballot by means of a vote.
At press time, there was talk of the council doing just that at its August 6 meeting.
Under Charter Section 186, representatives of both the city and its unions consider the pay grades for fire and police officers in all of California cities with populations between 100,000 and 250,000, and then alternate in eliminating cities from the list until 10 remain. This process normally eliminates the cities with salary levels in the lover 55 percentile and salary levels in the upper 28 percentile. Salaries for each job classification are determined from an average of those classifications in those ten cities remaining.
Police and firefighters are generally opposed to putting the Charter Section 186 rescission measure on the ballot. Proponents point out that firefighters in San Bernardino are particularly well paid.   Newly hired basic San Bernardino firefighters – ones without paramedic skill certification – are paid between $64,581 and $83,243 per year. Overtime pay provided to firefighters raises that remuneration level a considerable degree. Total wages for the city’s 13 rookie firefighters last year ranged from $91,843 to $152,845.
City officials are reportedly looking to see how much public support for the Charter Section 186 revision measure there is before placing it on the ballot. The cost for holding the vote would range from between $90,000 to $130,000, according to the County Registrar of Voters office.

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