Letter: Opposition to Tax Increase without Management of Employee Compensation

By Alan Pryor

I have been intimately involved and on the winning side of every big money ballot measure in Davis for the past 8 years and have a pretty good understanding of the pulse of the electorate. And I do not think any large parcel or sales tax measure will be approved in the City until the City proves it is properly managing itself with respect to employee compensation.

As an example, last night we learned at the Finance and Budget Commission meeting that the Fire Department budget included a compensation increase raising the average total compensation (inc. salary and benefits) for department employees from $196,500 to almost $205,000 per year – that’s a 5% increase for a union with no contract with the City. We also know from transparent california.org that the total compensation costs for City employees in 2016 was up about 5% per employee, now totaling $44,000,000 out of a $60,000,000 general fund.

When I tell citizens that the average total compensation for full time City employees in 2016 was $92,487 in salary and $32,457 in benefits per year, their jaws unanimously drop in complete disbelief. Now I have great respect for the great work done by the Finance and Budget Commission for the very deep and remarkably thorough and competent dive into the problem of unfunded liabilities in Davis including both infrastructure and employee retirement benefits and I give a lot of credit to you, Mayor Davis, for ushering that through every step of the way. But while we now know how deep our financial hole will be in the future, nobody has really delved into the issue of how we are going to fill that hole, except by proposing raising revenues through taxes or by generating big new one-time development fees. Well, Joe Minicozzi taught us that is a loser’s game – and Stockton and San Bernardino have amply proven it.

Nobody in Davis is willing to talk about the 800 lb gorilla in the room – which is employee compensation, which is at the root of our problem. I recall one of the key points of the John Meyer staff report done several years ago specifically recommended that a city-wide Business Enterprise analysis be done to ensure our employee’s skill sets and compensation match the critical services that need to be delivered. But to my knowledge, nothing has ever been done on this.

In the absence of such a critical evaluation, I find it inconceivable the public will support a large parcel or sales tax knowing we are paying our employees so well right now AND that we are assuming a 2% annual cost of living raise for them every year in the future AND we are going to be contributing millions more each year to their retirement funding. Well, under these circumstances, any tax ballot measure simply will not fly no matter how much lipstick you put on it to pretty it up. I hope you seriously take up the issue of employee compensation in Davis very soon.

Alan Pryor is a Davis resident and a member of the Natural Resources Commission.  He wrote this and delivered it during public comment on Tuesday as a private citizen.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Tia Will

    I take one exception to Don’s comment. Since the soda tax is a dual goal measure, primarily public health with income generation only occurring as a secondary effect, I would like to see it exempted from the “no tax until contracts rule”.

    1. David Greenwald

      I do believe that we need to separate completely the discussion of soda tax from the other taxes. They are separate issues for very different purposes.

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