EDITORIAL - Rather than perpetuating a story in search of a scandal, let's take a moment and discuss employee compensation and of course, look at the facts. I cannot speak to the intent behind the recent editorials in the Madera Tribune, but many people have expressed legitimate concerns regarding employee compensation which lend fair questions. The public absolutely deserves to know how their money is being spent. Employee compensation is public information that is a part of the policy process and requires review. Madera's employee compensation information, along with all other California cities, is published and made available to the public every year.
During the recession our city squeezed and stretched every dollar we could; we did more with less and still provided the best service delivery for Madera. The effects of the recession were devastating to a large number of residents and homeowners in Madera and City Hall was no different. The City strategically absorbed retirements and open positions and redistributed work amongst remaining employees. All departments cut their operating budgets and employees took cuts to their compensation. During this difficult economic time, while other public entities in California were filing for bankruptcy, I am proud to say that the City of Madera had no layoffs to any of its employees and fared much better than most cities around the State. During the recession, we grew our monetary reserves to insure continuity of the services our citizens expect.
Following the grips of the recession, we were set to go into negotiations with our employee bargaining units for 2015. We felt it was fair to compensate our employees who were patient; going 5 years without any adjustments to their salary, while working collaboratively with the Council to cut expenses by absorbing benefit costs. They worked very hard during the lean times and continued to provide exceptional service to the residents of Madera. This includes rank and file employees and not just management. In fact, our management personnel only represent 10% of our payroll. The City is a complex organization employing over 400 people in various occupations including after school program leaders, maintenance workers, water and wastewater employees, accountants, police officers and yes, managers. It is in the City's best interests to ensure it can hire competent, qualified employees to fill these and many other roles to serve the community.
Therefore, we compared our compensation to other cities like Madera in the San Joaquin Valley, cities that we compete with when looking for qualified employees. The comparison was not just based on population size but also included budget, number of employees, cost of living, services provided, crime rate and other markers used by an outside, independent consulting firm specializing in this area. These are also markets that we compete with to retain and attract talent. Prior to this, the last compensation study was done in 1998 and we felt it was important to make a market-based decision. In fact, in full transparency, if readers would like to review the salary survey, they can access it here: www.cityofmadera.ca.gov/compensation
The analysis concluded that, on average, classifications were 21.5% below the market median for base salaries and 4.4% below the market median when including total compensation (salary & benefits). We agreed to meet the market median or in the middle of the comparison (median) when looking at the combined value of pay and benefits. Some positions received a small increase while others were given a greater increase to meet the market median. Some didn't receive a market adjustment at all. Obviously the primary focus wasn't just to attract future talent but to retain and compensate our employees who provide an excellent service to Madera and at the same time, continue to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayer.
Employee compensation is, as you will see in the comprehensive study, a complex issue. Therefore, I am disappointed that the information being reported has loosely generalized employee compensation, combining PERS unfunded liabilities and rising healthcare costs and casting it as employee base pay. It is not. In fact, the information gathered and reported in the Tribune was from an online, self-reporting nonprofit organization that has no guidelines or procedures for reporting ensuring inaccuracies. Including unfunded pension liabilities as income, would be the equivalent of taking the $29 trillion dollar deficit in the Social Security system and saying it was income to the U.S. Workforce. Based on the information from Transparent California, some employees' compensation may represent many years of service, while others just a few months of employment, thus not making for an accurate apples to apples comparison.
As in most industries, generally employees who have worked longer for the same employer are paid more than those who are new employees. It doesn't reflect the fact that among the management employees targeted in this "analysis", they have served the City of Madera for an average of 14 years each. Again, our decision making was rooted in a market-based analysis and approach. It was important to the Council that we will be able to retain the talented workforce we have as well as recruit capable employees going forward to provide the best service we can.
The City of Madera is no different than a number of cities in the state of California in that we are all facing obstacles, such as increased healthcare costs, increased PERS rates and reduced funding from the State and Federal level that will cost essential services and jobs to Madera. Our most recent concerns are related to the projected PERS cost increases over the next six or seven years. This will absolutely impact our bottom line but we are poised to withstand such challenges with prudent policies which have resulted in a General Fund balance of $14 million dollars. This fund represents a prudent 30% budget reserve to ensure sufficient cash flow available and to mitigate the effects of natural disasters or unforeseen financial hardships such as a recession. We have planned for this and we are not in immediate peril as has been alleged. We will continue to make prudent decisions and welcome your input and participation in the process. All City Council meeting agendas, reports and minutes are posted to the City's website so everyone can be informed about the City's business and participate in the City's process of public government.
Rather than seeing content dedicated toward how we can address these challenges, we are seeing op-ed pieces land on the front page that make dishonest comparisons to Bell, CA., inferences to "cronyism" and an insinuation that Measure K is a bait and switch effort which I find absolutely false and irresponsible. Trust in City leadership and our impressive public safety personnel was proven with a historical passage of Measure K by over 80% of Maderan’s supporting the initiative. In less than a year we have been able to hire 11 new police officers and equip them with the tools and vehicles necessary to serve our City, invest in additional supportive equipment such as body cameras for our officers and invest in property north of town to build a new fire station with an anticipated completion date in the Spring of 2019. These are huge accomplishments that we should be celebrating together as a community.
I have given my time and energy to the city in which I call home. I have made myself accessible to everyone asking to speak with me. I have dedicated myself in service to Madera, including 12 years as a Planning Commissioner (voluntarily), serving as a City Councilman for 5 years and now serving as the Mayor of Madera since December 2016. I have been a business owner for over 24 years and most importantly, a proud father and husband to a very supportive family. I chose to dedicate my time, experience and vision to the residents of Madera, not for the $500 per month salary but because I love my community and the people who live here. I have served side by side with some of the most dedicated, professional, caring people in Madera who want to make a difference and I will not stand by and let anyone question the integrity and dedication of myself, my colleagues and my staff. It is undeserving, irresponsible, without merit and I take offense.
It is not my intent to use the Tribune or any other means of the media to shed a negative, undeserving light in our own hometown. Together we have an opportunity to put our best foot forward and shine. The City Council meets the first and third Wednesday of each month at 6pm at City Hall, 205 W. 4th St. Through cooperation and collaboration we will continue to make great strides in improving our community and so I invite anyone who would like to join me with other elected officials, partners, stakeholders and community members to put our collective minds together and continue to move Madera forward.