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Photo of Dan Helix during interview at Peet's Coffee in Concord Calif. Feb. 15, 2011. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff

Four years ago, as Concord officials projected future city finances, they forecast the annual general fund budget would grow from $79 million then to $90 million today. It went the other way. The current fiscal year budget is $71 million.

Welcome to the challenges of municipal finance as local governments feel the hangover from the Great Recession and plummeting California housing prices. Welcome to the new reality.

The city has about 20 percent fewer employees than four years ago. The cutbacks have been felt almost everywhere -- except for cops on the streets. Yet, despite the service cutbacks, the city continues to pay high pension costs and shield workers from contributing their full share. On employee benefit costs, Concord is stuck in the fantasy world of 2007.

The status quo cannot continue, but only two of the 11 candidates running for City Council appreciate the seriousness. For that reason, we endorse challenger Ed Birsan and veteran Councilman Dan Helix in the Nov. 6 election.

Here's the problem: For every dollar the city pays a police officer in salary, excluding overtime, it pays an additional 31 cents for its share of the employee's pension costs. On top of that, the worker is supposed to kick in 9 cents. But the city pays 5 cents of that as well, reducing the officer's cost to 4 cents and bringing the total city cost to 36 cents.

For most other Concord workers, the city share of pension costs is 24 cents. The worker is supposed to pay 8 cents but actually pays only 5 cents on every dollar of payroll. As a result, the total city cost jumps to 27 cents.


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These are huge, and increasing, payments that choke off funds needed for city services. As a minimum starting point, workers should pay their full share of the cost, 9 cents for police, 8 cents for most others.

But as we interviewed candidates for City Council we found most unwilling to consider that. Indeed, Tim McGallian, a planning commissioner endorsed by the Concord Police Officers Association, rejects any change in the cost sharing.

The statewide pension tweaks recently approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will have little effect on contribution rates for current employees if local officials are unwilling to push for change.

The problem is not just inequitable cost sharing that overly burdens taxpayers. It's that the total amount of the payments is not enough, and has left huge shortfalls. Concord's pension plans, for example, are underfunded by more than $120 million. That's on top of a $36 billion shortfall for retiree health care.

It's a debt future taxpayers will have to cover. For Concord, it averages nearly $1,300 for every city resident.

It's time for responsible leadership. Elect Birsan and Helix.

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Go to ww.contracostatimes.com/endorsements to see our latest list of election recommendations.