This failure in governance is having a significant negative impact on Pleasanton's finances. Personnel costs have grown from the mid-60% range to 77%, and our unfunded liability exploded from zero to approximately $137 million. Most citizens understandably glaze over when they hear numbers like these as it is difficult to put them into perspective. However, most appreciate the increasingly not-so-subtle erosion of city services.
Pleasanton now has fewer, more expensive police on the street. Fewer roads are being re-paved. Capital projects have decreased substantially. And reserve accounts are being decreased.
It is interesting to note that the recently approved Bernal Community Park project is only partially funded and must rely on additional user fees, etc., to complete the project. Elevated personnel and pension costs are the primary culprit for this lack of funds.
City employees deserve to be fairly compensated for the value they provide for our city. But due to lack of effective oversight, this is not what has happened. Unions did their job of maximizing the benefits to their members, winning generous benefits like 50% retroactive pension increases and above-market annual raises even through the early years of the recession. As a result, current and retired employees are extracting from the city millions of dollars more each year than their fair share.
The City Council has only recently and belatedly awoken to the realization that it must address the problem (after much pushing from the public) and admirably agreed to an improvement framework that includes the goal of reducing Pleasanton's unfunded liability by 10% over five years. Unfortunately, since then Pleasanton's unfunded liability has moved in the opposite direction in a significant way. More disappointing, many council members are already making excuses why they won't be able to meet their commitment while at the same time not pushing for all available legal concessions.
Something within the current governance dynamic must change. Otherwise, future Pleasanton residents and employees will pay an even higher price for a problem they didn't create. We need elected officials who truly are independent and can effectively sit across the bargaining table on behalf of Pleasanton citizens. Unions have identified their favorite candidates that they feel will be most sympathetic to their desires. Be aware of this. Look for and support the candidates you feel will apply the strongest independent critical thinking to this and other issues. The future of Pleasanton depends on it.