Healdsburg Officials Refuse to Debate Measure V

Healdsburg Council Members promoting their half cent sales tax increase known as Measure V claim to have made all the budget cuts they reasonably can.  But have they really?

Healdsburg faces an unfunded pension liability of $26 million, an obligation we pass on to our children.  Healdsburg spends 83% of its annual budget on public safety services and 22% of public safety payroll is earmarked for pensions.  To put that in perspective, Sonoma County acknowledges the 20% of payroll costs it pays for employee pensions is unsustainable and has set a goal of reducing that figure to 10%, where it was ten years ago.

Facing the same obstacles to pension reform as in Healdsburg, Sonoma County set a goal of reducing overall payroll costs by 3%.  That approach recognizes that current salaries remain negotiable even if pension benefits are not.  While the county’s goals are probably too timid, at least the county is moving in the right direction.  Healdsburg, on the other hand, isn’t moving at all.  Healdsburg Council Members have set no such goals and complain instead that pension reform is out of their hands.

Labor contracts for Healdsburg’s police and fire were renewed this year.  In neither case, however, did Council exact any reductions in compensation, health or pension benefits.  Current police officers and firefighters will continue to enjoy for two more years the same levels of pay and benefits that created the problem.

To be fair, police officers and firefighters agreed to pay a larger portion of their share of pension costs, but that only begs the question, why weren’t they paying it all along?  Why were Healdsburg residents paying both the employer’s share of pension costs as well as shouldering the load for the employee’s share?

Council Members will also point to newly implemented “two-tiered” plans, but make no mistake, two-tiered plans simply impose lower pay and benefits on our children and grandchildren who are tomorrow’s police officers and firefighters.  Two-tiered plans are a recipe for workplace strife as newer workers working side by side with older workers and performing the same job as those older workers become increasingly resentful of their second-class status.  Placing the burden on future generations so that current employees can continue enjoying their unsustainable compensation packages is not pension reform, it’s kicking the can down the road.

Further, Council Members promoting Measure V refuse to debate the measure thus allowing them to present to residents their sanitized version of the measure.  At what was billed a “debate” on Measure V three weeks ago, the Taxpayers’ Association was invited by the League of Women Voters and the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce to debate the measure at the Healdsburg School.  The Association’s Executive Director, Dan Drummond, was to present the “con” side while Council Member Jim Woods was to present the “pro.”  Even though we were told a few days in advance by LWV President Dee Dee Bridges to prepare for questions from the audience, Ms. Bridges informed us upon our arrival at the school that we would be limited to reading a prepared statement and there would be no questions allowed.  The “no questions” rule was apparently dictated by the Healdsburg City Attorney as a condition to Mr. Woods’ appearance.  As surprising as it may be that the LWV would allow one of the debate participants to dictate the rules for the debate, it was inexcusable that the LWV neglected to inform the Associationof this arrangement prior to the debate.

And to make matters worse, Ms. Bridges told us in advance to prepare an opening statement of up to three minutes in length, but then cut short Mr. Drummond’s presentation after only two minutes.  She did, however, allow Mr. Woods to complete his statement without interruption.  We have subsequently learned that the LWV endorses Measure V, a disclosure Ms. Bridges failed to make to either the Association or the audience in attendance.

So what is it that Healdsburg Council Members and the League of Women Voters are so afraid of?  A healthy debate on these issues is necessary to help voters make informed decisions.  Squelching debate and running from it simply tells us their measure can’t withstand scrutiny.

Contrary to their claims, City Council simply hasn’t done enough to justify the imposition of more taxes.  Vote no on V.

Comments are closed.