The City Council of San Bernardino, California, has declared its intent to file for bankruptcy and has issued a fascinating document that outlines the steps it would take to regain fiscal solvency. It’s a very creative and orderly attempt to reshape the finances of the government.
Proposals include a tax on phone service, estimated to raise $6.7 million dollars a year; a comprehensive asset plan to set market-rate rents for some city-owned properties and below-market-rate leases for others to create incentives for development; an increase in fees for false alarms that police respond to; and the outsourcing of tree trimming, street sweeping, graffiti abatement, streetlight maintenance and trash collection.
Although these ideas could raise new revenues, they do not really address the most burdensome parts of San Bernardino’s budget.
San Bernardino Mayor Patrick J. Morris said on Southern California Public Radio yesterday that the city’s public employee wages were especially “lucrative.” Although city employees agreed in 2010 to a 10 percent wage reduction for two years, the firemen’s union had told him to “pound sand” and sued the city to restore the previous wage level. It’s clear from this episode that even though San Bernardino firefighters were paid an average salary of $146,359 in 2010, they are entirely unwilling to help the city escape its fiscal black hole.
Morris had mentioned in a press conference on Tuesday that he and the city council have considered merging the city police and fire departments with those of nearby communities or with the county’s. This could be a very smart approach, since about half the city’s general fund expenses are dedicated to fire and police services. The city paid its frontline police workers an average of $110,099 in 2010. If nearby communities, or the county sheriff, have lower staffing costs, this could be an important source of savings.