Escondido, CA

When city faces economic challenges is a council raise appropriate?


It might be argued that in the overall big picture it is a pretty trivial matter when the Escondido City Council gives itself a raise several weeks after voting that library employees were too pricey to keep on the city’s payroll—and that they needed to be put out to privatization pasture.

As the mayor observes, “It’s only one hundred and ninety dollars.”

True, it is a small thing, but optics matter.  Optics is a fancy, modern way of saying that it looks bad.  As a couple of city council members pointed out, it’s not a big salary that they make, not even the mayor. However, in terms of many of the poorer residents of the community, it might be considered a substantial amount. Things are relative.

It is also true that city employees don’t get 5% pay raises each year. They get about half that, something that councilman Ed Gallo, one of the two (including Olga Diaz) who voted against the raise, argued for instead of the 5% raise.

And the point is that the council majority has said over and over that the city must economize and find ways to make more revenue in order to deal with a large shortfall of money that is headed down the pike like a giant tsunami. That big wave is being caused by increases to CalPERS payments that the city must come up with beginning in a few years.

Mayor Sam Abed in particular has been warning about this looming crisis.

It seems to me that if the city is serious about its cash problems that the place to start is . . . everywhere. The city should institute a hiring and spending freeze. The budget should be frozen at current levels until the city cuts back enough to pay for the increases in the state-mandated pension increases that are looming.

I was talking to a high up Escondido official recently and I suggested just this measure to convince the public that the council is serious. “But no other cities in California are doing that?” he said. “We wouldn’t want to be the only city in California to do something like that. It would look like we are panicking,” he said.

I retorted: “How would it look if Escondido was one of the few cities in California to avoid bankruptcy? That would be pretty grand, wouldn’t it?”

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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