By Marion Gil |Staff Writer|
San Bernardino citizens are braced for the city to make financial changes due to the recently declared bankruptcy and constantly increasing debt.
The bankruptcy has become one of the primary focuses for the city, with increasing public safety expenses and pension benefits put under the most blame.
“Every one of us is suffering from these skyrocketing costs,” said San Jose Mayor Chuck, “San Bernardino is certainly at the top of the list of those with difficulties.”
According to San Bernardino Mayor Patrick J. Morris, the city is paying nearly $14 million to pension costs this year with an estimated jump to $33 million in 10 years, which equals 25 percent of the general budget fund.
The city’s general budget fund of $125 million is only balanced because the city has delayed nearly $28 million in payments owed to debt, according to an editorial by The Press Enterprise about San Bernardino’s bankruptcy.
According to Morris, increased benefits and pensions to employees as well as a decrease in the retirement age has created a high-priced and unsustainable system that is costing the city and increasing its debt.
Morris hopes to reform the pension system to reduce benefits given to employees to save the city money, but says he isn’t trying to take away pensions that are earned.
“I don’t plan to take away what they’ve earned,” said Morris. “It’s vested and they’ve earned it.”
Not everyone is excited about Morris’ plan to cut city debt by reforming the pension program.
Steve Turner, president of the San Bernardino Police Officer’s Association, blames the mayor’s own bad decisions, saying that the city has already taken so much from them and now plans to take from their pension, a move he claims is “changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
Morris has begun work with the mayors of neighboring cities on a pension-reform plan that will be unveiled “in a few days,” according to Reed, who is the primary backer of the reform plan.
The other factor being targeted in the city’s bankruptcy claim is the costs of public safety personnel, such as police and fire departments.
A city charter mandate requires annual increases to the salary of public safety personnel regardless of city finances.
Morris has proposed contracting out public safety personnel in order to save on the city’s labor cost and cut down on the amount of personnel receiving pension benefits.
Besides the labor cost, the lowered retirement age means the city has fewer workers and more obligations, something Morris says is unsustainable.
The bid to seek outside contracts would allow the city to bypass a charter that required the city to spend nearly $1 million in raises this year despite the issue of the city’s bankruptcy.
Morris has proposed a 10-step financial recovery plan that he hopes will alleviate the city’s financial crisis in 10 years, a plan he says is not the final solution to the problem, but a planted flag he hopes will initiate serious discussions and cause citizens to come together and “adopt a financial plan to save San Bernardino.”