San Leandro voters two years ago approved a seven-year, quarter-cent sales tax increase to help preserve city services. Today, the tax brings in about $3.8 million annually.
Now the City Council must do its part. Soaring city pension costs have reached about $10 million a year, in part because most employees contribute nothing toward their retirement fund.
On top of that, the city's pension plan and health program for retirees are more than $70 million short of where they should be today -- an unconscionable debt that will be passed on to future taxpayers.
With three council seats on the Nov. 6 ballot, and with all city labor contracts expiring at year's end, the city sits at a financial crossroads. It needs leaders willing to protect taxpayers and future city services.
For that reason, we strongly endorse two school board members running for seats on the council: Morgan Mack-Rose in District 2 and Hermy Almonte in District 6. They say fixing San Leandro's serious financial problems should be the city's top priority. They're right.
We also tepidly back Chris Crow, a former planning commissioner who, in a weak field of four District 4 candidates, was the only one who demonstrated some understanding of the problems.
The city, suffering under the weight of the economic downturn, has undergone five years of financial pain. The annual budget has been trimmed about 7 percent, and it would have been more had the city not dipped into reserves. The size of the workforce has been cut about 20 percent, although far less for sworn police officers.
Meanwhile, pension costs continue to rise. For every payroll dollar spent on police, pension costs now add more than 50 cents. For other city employees, the pension payment is 23 cents for every payroll dollar.
Most employees don't contribute a dime toward those costs. We understand they have gone without expected raises and experienced furloughs to help control salary costs. But so have most of the taxpayers who fund their paychecks.
Meanwhile, they're getting a free ride on very generous pensions. The city even pays what is supposed to be the employees' share. Clearly, that must end. Otherwise, the city will face an annual shortfall of about $7 million starting in 2018-19, the first year the sales tax expires. That will mean even more job cuts.
To make matters worse, even those high city retirement contributions haven't been enough to properly fund the pension and retiree health care programs. The $70 million unfunded liability for past labor costs must now be paid by future generations. City leaders should explain that to their children.
Unfortunately, District 2 incumbent Ursula Reed had no understanding of the problems. And District 6 incumbent Jim Prola couldn't find the time in his busy schedule to discuss them.
It's time for change. San Leandro needs leaders who understand the problems and are willing to fix them.
Go to ww.insidebayarea.com/endorsements to see our latest list of election recommendations.