At our November 13th meeting, staff presented the audited financial results for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018. The Council ultimately ended up accepting staff’s recommendations as to how to allocate the surplus to various reserves.1
But the more interesting part of the story was in the size of the surplus: nearly $7,000,000, the largest such single-year surplus anyone on staff can remember San Carlos ever producing.2
Equally surprising, to me at least, was what came next. Ron Collins proposed we grant staff a 5% bonus, in recognition of all the hard work they’ve done, and for their willingness, about a decade ago, to accept salary reductions to get the city through some fiscal challenges. It’s estimated such a bonus would cost nearly $500,000.
I’ve always supported compensating staff fairly, and I believe in rewarding employees for doing good work.3 And it’s true staff has worked hard on a number of big initiatives this year, including the revision of single family zoning rules and the firearm store moratorium. I’m less supportive of “paying back” salary reductions, because we’ve used that same argument for years to support negotiated salary and benefit increases that were on the more generous side of what we might otherwise have pushed for. It’s also worth remembering we just invested $7,500,000 in pre-funding employee pension costs. That reduced the risk salaries might have to be cut in the future to cover increased pension contributions. While not something you can spend, it definitely benefits staff, and should count for something, too, I think.
But the most surprising thing is a group of people who didn’t get mentioned: our residents.
It’s true staff’s hard work played a part in generating our recent surpluses.4 But most of the surplus is the result of heightened residential and commercial development, and commercial activity, that has negatively impacted many residents. I frequently hear from people unhappy with traffic, congestion, difficulty finding parking spaces, Laurel Street’s frenetic pace, you name it.
When considering a financial reward made possible by all this development and commercial activity, shouldn’t our residents be first in line?
When the Council meets to discuss granting staff a bonus I will propose doing something comparable for residents. If we can afford to spend $500,000 on a well-deserved bonus, we can afford to give back at least $1,000,000 to the people who make San Carlos what it is.
Distributing funds to residents can be a challenge, because the city does not maintain an up-to-date registry of everyone who lives in San Carlos. In addition, a direct distribution is complicated by having to set rules that can quickly become complex or divisive.5
But there are some simple, broad-based, reasonably fair things the Council could easily do:
- Declare a one-time reduction in taxes to be paid in 2019 under a city-wide parcel tax or bond measure6.
- Declare a one-time reduction in garbage fees in 2019;
- Declare a one-time reduction in sewer fees in 2019.
There may be other approaches that would benefit almost all residents, too.
If you are interested in seeing this happen, I hope you’ll take a moment to share your views with the Council.7
Just make sure you do so before the next Council meeting, scheduled for November 26th. That’s when the staff bonus proposal will come back for review.