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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Carlsbad puts heavy thumb on city's lowest paid workers

For San Diego's North County Times
Carlsbad's elected officials like to say the city has been able to dodge layoffs and deep cuts in services because of their careful planning and fiscal prudence. But a closer look reveals another side of the story.

The city's proposed budget for 2011/2012 projects a $600,000 surplus, bringing the accumulated general fund balance up to $54 million, a whopping 47 percent of the $113 million budget. There's even room enough for another $1.4 million bailout of the golf course.

Previous million-dollar yearly subsidies since its opening have been in the form of loans. But now that it's clear the debt will never be repaid, and with hopes fading that the course will ever pay for itself, it will now be a part of the operating budget, just like the city's other recreational facilities.

The city boasts that no layoffs have been required during the recession. None are planned for next year. We can expect only a "minimal" reduction in city services, such as delays in streetlight replacements, road repairs and trimming trees on city property.

City officials claim "sharing the pain" has been the watchword for budget cutting.
But negotiations with the Carlsbad City Employees Association reveal the city's lowest-paid workers will bear the brunt of it. The group represents 340 employees with a pay scale from $30,000 to $80,000. The city's final one-year contract offer would result in a 7 percent cut in take-home pay, beginning July 1. That's because the city wants to shift to employees the share of pension fund contributions the city currently pays on their behalf.

Management employees, with a salary schedule ranging from $80,000 to $124,000, won't feel the pain. City Manager Lisa Hildabrand told CCEA members the city will continue to pay management personnel's 7 percent pension fund contribution and may give them a 2.5 percent pay increases, since they've gone without raises for three years. She told the group the city is also planning to consider outsourcing, furloughs, and moving employees around to effect additional cost-saving measures.

The CCEA met the city's final offer with a counter-offer, asking that the increase in pension contributions be phased in at 3.5 percent a year over two years, beginning Dec. 1. The association agreed to a one-year pay freeze and a reduction in retirement benefits for new hires from the current 3 percent at age 60, based on highest salary, to 2 percent at 60, based on a three-year average.

The City Council will vote on the contract at its June 21 meeting. Council members need to explain why the city's lowest-paid workers are being asked to bear the greatest burden in these hard times.

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