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Revenue options should wait until union concessions are clear

  • Santa Rosa firefighter paramedic Jeff Kelly, left, and fire captain Jim Eckhoff wash off Engine 1 in front of Station 1 on Wednesday, February 11, 2009.

Santa Rosa fire officials are concerned about how city residents will respond to being charged $350 when paramedics show up at their door for a medical emergency.

They have reason to be. It?s a bad idea ? particularly given where the city is in confronting its fiscal crisis.

The fee is one of a number of revenue-generating proposals the City Council will be discussing today. Others include a quarter-cent sales tax increase (generating $7 million a year), a $50 parcel tax (generating $2.5 million) and a 3 percent boost in the city?s hotel tax ($1.2 million).

The fire fee idea calls for charging $350 anytime firefighters are called to a home or apartment for a medical emergency. Residents would have the option of buying insurance against that charge by paying a voluntary $4-a-month fee.

Such fees are in place in a number of other California communities, including Sonoma. But that doesn?t justify adopting it for Santa Rosa ? particularly given the state of the economy and the state of household budgets. Any tax increase like that has to be a measure of last resort.

City officials shouldn?t be discussing any revenue-generating ideas until residents are confident that all reasonable efforts have been made to cut city spending. This includes having a clear understanding of what concessions public employees unions ? including those for police and fire ? are making to scale back wages and/or benefits.

State employees and employees in some other cities already have accepted pay cuts, furloughs and other cutbacks.

Local concessions are the elephant in the room as the Santa Rosa City Council moves closer to its March 24 meeting when it is scheduled to make the third ? and most significant ? round of budget cuts to stave off a $23 million deficit.

The next round calls for cutting 50 more city positions, including 34 in the Police Department. Those reductions can be lessened depending on union agreements to reduce salaries and/or benefits.

The problem is that many of the union contracts aren?t up for renewal until later this year or in 2010. Leaders of two police unions say they?re offering wage and benefit concessions. But given that those discussions are taking place behind closed doors, residents won?t know the details for weeks if not months. And when they do, the public will only have a few days to review the contracts before they go to the City Council for a vote.

Any tax increase ? including this paramedic fee ? needs to wait until then. Before Santa Rosa residents are asked to give more money, they need to know that they?ve been given the big picture.


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