'Yes' on Y; let's keep Piedmont beautiful
As president of the Piedmont Beautification Foundation, I join with my fellow trustees -- Patty Reed, Karen Rollandi, Patty Siskind, Anian Tunney, Jukka Valkonen, John Chiang and Margaret Fujioka -- in urging Piedmont voters to support the renewal, at existing levels, of our city parcel tax, Measure Y on the November ballot.
It is safe to assume that the first cuts, if the measure does not pass, will be to the maintenance of our green spaces — Grand Avenue medians, Nova circle, the Fairview median, the Jerome triangle, Dracena, Linda and Piedmont Parks, the San Carlos median, the Civic Center landscaping, the Hampton/Indian triangle, the Wildwood/Magnolia triangle, the cemetery wall garden and the St. James triangle, to name a few. At risk also would be the proposed Ramona/Ronada traffic peninsula, which is an aesthetic and a safety project.
Every homeowner understands that no man-made environment goes downhill faster than a neglected garden -- that lapses in care of just a few years mean costly restoration work later.
We understand that the City Council, when faced with a loss of $1.63 million per year, ($6.52 million over four years) will strive to keep cuts as far away from safety services as possible and rightly so. But as Beautification Foundation trustees, we must be a voice for Piedmont's green spaces which support our property values while providing recreation, traffic safety and civic pride.
Please vote "yes" on Measure Y.
Michelle Winchester, president
Piedmont Beautification Foundation
Firefighters respond to recent 'My Word'
Two weeks ago, there was an article in The Piedmonter stating that the Piedmont Fire Department staffs more personnel than other "comparable" fire departments and that this "extra" staffing was expensive. Frankly, I'm surprised this is newsworthy. Along with better schools, parks, streets, recreational facilities and a better police department, the citizens of Piedmont have always enjoyed a more "full-service" fire department.
In general, recommended staffing levels are set forth by the National Fire Protection Agency. Even cursory research into those standards will show that the fire department is actually staffed appropriately for the apparatus we provide, and this is how the town wants it. The fact that we perform these tasks successfully is a testament to the current department's recruitment, training, and effectiveness, rather than a lack of need for more personnel.
The "comparable" cities the author mentioned rely heavily on mutual aid or private ambulances for comprehensive fire protection and medical transport, which significantly increases response and transport times (and thus, negatively influences incident outcomes). The citizens of Piedmont, on the other hand, decided long ago to rely upon City of Piedmont employees to quickly and professionally manage the vast majority of Piedmont emergency responses (including immediate advanced life support ambulance transport) and staffed the fire department accordingly. This staffing also allows us to respond to the many fire alarms, and extinguish the many incipient fires that don't get any media attention, but that would become much larger, more destructive, and life-threatening with fewer firefighters or longer response times. Staffing is always a delicate balance between what a community needs and what they can afford. As public servants, we consider it a point of pride that the community we serve has always chosen to invest so progressively in its own health and safety. We hope they continue to do so.
If any member of the community has any questions regarding staffing, emergency responses or any other aspect of the Piedmont Fire Department, we invite you to come to the firehouse and talk to the firefighters, the command staff or the fire chief, all of whom are proudly at your service 24 hours a day.
President Piedmont Firefighters Association
Zoo Measure A1 claims versus facts
Misinformed opponents of Measure A1 are making unsubstantiated allegations:
Claim: A1 gives Oakland Zoo taxing authority. Fact: the board of supervisors has taxing authority, not Oakland Zoo.
Claim: A1 will fund expansion projects. Fact: By law, money from A1 cannot be used for this purpose, however important this project is.
Claim: the Zoo can spend funds with no accountability. Fact: the Independent Oversight Committee will ensure that funds are spent according to the expenditure plan listed in A1, namely on animal care, children's educational programs and maintaining affordability. The board of supervisors has ultimate authority, not the Zoo.
Opponents of the expansion project want people to believe that defeat of A1 will stop construction of this project. Not true. Regardless of this election, the project will continue because it is funded by one-time, restricted donations.
Please vote "yes" on A1.
Want real change? Turn off the spigot
To quote Ronald Reagan, I say, "There you go again," Vice Mayor Fujioka, for the recent opinion piece threatening to cut ambulance service if Measure Y fails. This is an unconscionable scare tactic, not only because Piedmonters pay a special paramedic services assessment, but also because these services clearly are important enough to be preserved among the top city priorities.
While Fujioka promises the council will make reforms, evidence of real progress is minimal 14 months after the Municipal Tax Review Committee delivered its final report. A core issue on which substantial progress has not been made is benefits whose costs have been growing at double-digit rates for the last 10 years.
Today for every $10,000 of salary paid, the city incurs costs of at least $6,600 and $8,000 respectively for public safety and public works employees. These growing numbers are double the size of anything that is considered reasonable in other cities.
Some may think that those opposing Measure Y don't care about Piedmont, but we volunteered to help with city governance because we love this town. Our involvement has caused us to conclude that the only way to address major risk to our valued public services is to turn off the spigot until the council makes meaningful reforms.
It doesn't mean the city will lose the parcel tax forever, or even for four years. With meaningful council initiative on the spending problem, maybe it only means for one year. A "no" vote on Measure Y supports Piedmont's long-term financial health by sending the council a message that delaying substantial reforms is unacceptable.
'Yes' on Measure Y to maintain services
On Oct. 8, I joined eight fellow former mayors -- Susan Hill, Skip Rhodes, Katy Foulkes, Craig Lundin, Patty White, Michael Bruck, Abe Friedman, Dean Barbieri -- and our current mayor John Chiang to make phone calls to Piedmont voters asking them to vote "yes" on Measure Y, the renewal of the Piedmont parcel tax.
These former mayors represent about four decades of service to the City of Piedmont. We have served the city not only as mayors but also as commissioners, council members and volunteers. So, why did we come together in solidarity to support Measure Y?
We know that the city's leaders have a long history of providing services that meet the needs of Piedmonters. Over our long years of service, we have seen Piedmont move forward with successful programs and projects to benefit our residents.
Most importantly, we understand that since Proposition 13 was enacted, limiting the property tax rate, that basic property taxes are just not enough to provide for what this city's residents want. That is why we need the parcel tax.
Furthermore, every dollar from Measure Y stays in Piedmont. Measure Y will allow the city to continue to provide: rapid-response police, fire and paramedic services; the lowest crime rate in Alameda County; the highest property values in Alameda County; beautiful parks, playfields and community facilities; well-maintained streets and sidewalks; great recreation programs for all ages; crossing guards for Piedmont students; financial reserves to maintain city buildings and equipment.
Measure Y will cost the average homeowner about $9 per week. Please join us in voting "yes" on Measure Y.
There will be cuts if Measure Y fails
Since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1980, residents of Piedmont have realized that to have the things we as a community value, we needed a city services tax. Our city has had such a tax since 1980, and we have continuously renewed it for the past 32 years.
The tax is up for renewal this year and is on our ballot as Measure Y. It is not an increase over the past four years. I urge you to vote yes on Measure Y.
Measure Y helps pay for many of the special elements about our town that make us enjoy living here and, coincidentally, helps maintain our property values with such things as our beautiful parks and medians; well-maintained roads; the ability to use Oakland's library; great recreation programs that our kids enjoy that keep them safe; our recent Harvest Festival; and the Fourth of July Parade.
If Measure Y doesn't pass, we may not notice it quickly, but eventually we will have to see a decline in the city services we've come to rely upon. It's impossible for the council to cut $1.6 million from our yearly budget without it catching up to us somewhere. Who will it be? What will be cut? Something you value dearly? Piedmont's one public works gardener? One less Schoolmates instructor at each school? No more YANA (You Are Not Alone) from the Police Department? Maybe fewer outings for the Recreation Department's Strictly for Seniors group?
I know for me, it would be the library. I imagine if I were still on the council, our contract with Oakland for use of the library would be on the chopping block. For me as a resident, that will hurt the most. I go to the Piedmont branch probably once a week. I love the library. Please vote "yes."
Call their bluff -- 'no' on Measure Y
As Election Day approaches, I urge Piedmont residents to use their heads and not their emotions and to vote "no" on Measure Y.
Why? I have yet to hear an honest, forthright response from the city manager or the City Council to requests for factual information on exactly which essential city services would suffer or be cut out if Measure Y fails to pass.
An informed electorate deserves facts, not half-truths or appeals to doom-and-gloom scenarios. No one has provided me or the rest of the voters with information from responsible sources that an be used to assist voters in their choice at the polls Tuesday. Surrogates with opinions abound, but responsible city governance has been factually silent.
I believe in responsible city government with the best interest of the taxpayers, not vested interests, at heart. Until I see this happen, I will vote "no" on Measure Y and urge other Piedmonters to do the same.
Like services? Vote 'yes' on Measure Y
We're fortunate to live in a city that has beautiful, well-maintained parks, a superior recreation program for our kids and wonderful fire and police protection. I don't know why anybody would want to jeopardize the excellent services we have by voting against Measure Y.
Opponents of the tax claim all they want is that services would not have to be cut if the city budget was cut by more than 7 percent, but their claims defy logic.
Don't further enable broken status quo
I'm voting "no" on Proposition Y, the city parcel tax renewal. Having lived in Piedmont for more than 40 years and thus placing a high value on the services provided by the city, I am concerned about the controversy surrounding the parcel tax renewal.
Over the last few months, I have tried to educate myself regarding the arguments posed by both sides of this important public policy issue. Supporters have insisted that it is necessary to pass Measure Y to ensure continuation of the essential services that the citizenry of Piedmont have come to expect.
Opponents of Measure Y contend that the city will be able to provide the necessary services without the revenue from the parcel tax. Furthermore, their view is that the City Council and the city administration need to be held to account for the mistakes over the last few years that endanger the future financial well-being of our community.
It is clear to me that the council and the administration have not performed up to expectations in recent years. The undergrounding debacle that cost the citizens of Piedmont several million dollars and the attempt to create athletic playing fields in Moraga Canyon in the face of significant detrimental environmental impacts are but two examples. In addition, failure to deal adequately with the looming employee benefit crisis reinforces my concern regarding management of the city's resources. To arrive at these conclusions I have relied on, among other sources, Michael Rancer's comprehensive assessment of Piedmont's financial situation made when he was chair of the 2011 Municipal Review Committee.
In particular, Rancer's analysis suggests that the current administration has failed to address the escalating costs associated with city employees' salaries and benefits. These costs have increased by more than $6.4 million over the last decade, an increase greater than the overall increase in city expenditures. Currently, a quarter of the city budget goes to pay for employee benefit costs.
A "no" on Y vote will begin the process of holding the council and the administration accountable for bringing costs under control and laying the groundwork for a sound fiscal future for Piedmont.
Reviewing options if Measure Y fails
Let me explain why I am advocating for and endorsing Measure Y -- the renewal of Piedmont's Municipal Parcel Tax. Measure Y is neither a new or increased tax, and every dollar collected will stay in Piedmont to benefit Piedmont citizens.
The $1.63 million generated from the 32-year-old parcel tax is critical to balancing the city's $22.4 million budget at a cost of less than $9 per week for most households.
Some have asked what would be cut if the existing parcel tax, representing 7.28 percent of the city's budget, is not renewed. This would ultimately be decided by the City Council, after much public input. Let's look at some of the possible cuts:
None of the above options will be easy to implement, and many would be very unpopular. How realistic are these choices?
The City Council has and will continue to take proactive steps to deal with the complexity and rising cost of employee benefits over time, with the goal that any future increase in benefit costs will be covered by employees. We will be hiring an employee benefits consultant to identify additional options.
The bottom-line -- the city needs the renewal of the parcel tax to remain financially sound and to maintain Piedmont's high-quality services. Please vote "yes" on Measure Y.
Mayor of Piedmont
Renew tax after fiscal sanity shown
I received our property tax bill this week. Included is $471 for the Municipal Services Tax. In the big scheme, it's not a lot of money.
Oh, I know that the entire $6 million raised over the last several years with the current parcel tax was wasted on an undergrounding project and an aborted sports field project and was misspent on excessive employee compensation, especially fringe benefits. But that's water under the bridge. Institutions, including City Councils, make mistakes. As long as they learn from their mistakes, progress, albeit costly, has been made.
But wait -- what project management practices have been put in place so these mistakes are avoided in the future? And wait -- what about the $40 million unfunded liability for future employee benefit costs that I've been reading about? That's not water under the bridge; it is a torrent of water rushing at and possibly devastating the bridge. Who's going to pay for that? That's $10,000 per household. What happens when that bill comes due?
The City Council says we're making good progress. A two-tier pension system for newly hired employees has been implemented. But wait -- the two-tier system will not have a material effect for 10 to 20 years and will have no effect whatsoever on the $40 million unfunded liability for current retirees or the 94 current employees. That doesn't appear to be much progress to me. The City Council also notes that employees are paying $100 per month toward their retiree health benefit. Well, let's see: That's $112,000 per annum applied against a taxpayer funded benefit package of $5.7 million. Hmm ... not much progress there.
Well, let's think about this. Employee contracts are expiring over the next nine months -- for miscellaneous, nonsafety employees in December and for fire and police in June. Let's see what progress can be made by our City Council in labor negotiations to rein in benefits costs funded by taxpayers. Of total fringe benefit costs, the current split is 87 percent taxpayer paid and 13 percent employee beneficiary paid. This seems to me an unfair sharing of the burden, with taxpayers taking the hit.
If the City Council moves to lessen the burden on taxpayers for employee benefits and develops a plan for fiscal responsibility, the Municipal Services Tax can be put up to a vote in early 2014. This coincides with the next City Council election and provides an opportunity to vote on candidates and the tax at the same time. The lost revenue, amounting to $1.6 million or 7 percent of the annual budget, is surely affordable given the city's General Fund and capital reserves.
So, for now, I'll vote "no" on Measure Y.
It is not "business as usual." It is time to demand fiscal responsibility from our elected officials. Visit www.NoOnMeasureY.com.
member, 2011 Municipal Tax Review Committee Piedmont
Sky won't fall for it, neither should we
The proponents of Measure Y have adopted the "Chicken Little" strategy: the sky will fall if Piedmonters decline to spend an additional $1,800 over the next four years for a tax, intended to be temporary that some now wish to treat as permanent. Yet, curiously enough, supporters of Measure Y can't specify a single vital service (police, fire, paramedic, streets, sewers) that would be cut if Measure Y is defeated.
The reason? It is simply that our parcel tax dollars are not spent on vital services. They are being devoted to an out-of-control and unsustainable rise in city employee and health care costs. Both the Municipal Tax Review Committee and the Budget Advisory Committee (both appointed by the City Council) have expressed alarm about the resulting dangers to the future of our city. Yet, the City Council has failed to provide a plan that will reduce these constantly escalating costs that now constitute a $40,000,000 unfunded liability ($10,000 per household) for Piedmont taxpayers. In response, the council says "trust us" when they have taken no action to warrant that trust.
Current contracts with city employees expire either in December of this year or July of next year. Thus, the council has an immediate opportunity, in negotiating new contracts, to demonstrate that they can rein in employee benefit costs by insisting upon substantially larger employee contributions. The wise course of action is to defeat Measure Y and then hold the council to its promise of greater fiscal responsibility in the future.
Lincoln famously said, "You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."
Let's prove Lincoln right by voting "no" on Measure Y. For more information, visit www.NoOnMeasureY.com.