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Talk of the Town: Burbank City Council, utility rate hikes, and labor costs

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Budget calculator graphic

The Burbank City Council will again be crunching budget numbers tonight during a special city council meeting. At the June 10 meeting, the council majority shocked the over-confident staff by not approving utility rate increases for electric, water, refuse, and sewer. The vote was 3-2 with council members Emily Gabel-Luddy and Gary Bric voting for the rate increases.  Council member Jess Talamantes, Vice-Mayor Bob Frutos and Mayor Dr. David Gordon voted against the rate hikes.

The staff had assumed the council would  roll over and accept its recommendation to squeeze the residents of Burbank for more money. The staffers were so sure of themselves, they included the rate hikes in the proposed budget.  When the council majority refused to go along with jacking up the utility rates, staff had to scramble to put together some new options. Some of those options were discussed at last Tuesday’s council meeting.

During the final period of public comment, a speaker walked to the podium and made some right on target suggestions.

Mike Elman:

“I’ve been listening all night to the meeting and I just wish you guys would address the problem like it was a business not a government. The business you could either raise prices or cut expense. I think it’s time to look at cutting expense. Nobody said words like furlough, voluntary cut in pay, uh,  not paying maybe for accrued vacation time. Things of that nature. I don’t know what the answer is.   But somebody gotta pay and it doesn’t always have to be the public.”

I have heard other residents talk about city employee-related reductions and cutbacks as well.  Yes, it’s time to share the pain. No longer should city services and programs be the only areas slashed by the budget axe. It’s long past time that staffers made some sacrifices too. They share in the benefits of working for the  great city of Burbank — they should share in the pain when tough budget decisions are necessary.

The department heads should set an example by volunteering to accept pay cuts comparable to the proposed rate hikes for customers. Remember those bonuses or merit pay as the staff called them? Over the years, millions of dollars in bonuses have been paid out to city employees. In the 2009-2010 budget, an estimated $1 millions in bonuses were paid out. Guess who got some of the fattest bonuses? Burbank Water and Power General Manager, Ron Davis. During one four-year period, Davis took home $79,000 in bonuses!

The Los Angeles Times/Burbank Leader sued the city to get information on those bonuses. Only then, did city officials decide to discontinue the merit pay program starting with the 2011-2012 budget. “With over 80% of our costs in the general fund going to labor and 85% of the budget deficit attributable to pension costs, we simply can’t balance the budget in the short or long-term without impacting our labor groups,” said then City Manager Mike Flad.  “I believe anything to the contrary will be fiscally irresponsible.”

City council members, new city manager, Mark Scott, and staffers need to take  note of the smart observations of  both Flad and Elman. It’s time to share the pain of balancing the budget.

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