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Measure M tax opponents rally outside City Hall, blast ‘enormous’ staff pay

Citrus Heights Council District 3 candidate Tim Schaefer speaks outside City Hall during a rally against Measure M on Friday. // CH Sentinel

Sentinel staff report–
A group of about 50 Measure M opponents gathered in the parking lot of City Hall in Citrus Heights Friday to protest a $12 million sales tax increase, saying “there’s room to cut” instead.

The group held signs against Measure M, including a display listing total compensation packages for five of the city’s top positions last year. The data, taken from publicpay.ca.gov, shows the city manager’s total pay plus benefits equaled over $400,000, total compensation for the chief of police was over $300,000, and several other positions were listed over $200,000.

“I’m pretty confident I could find someone for $200,000 to do the same job,” said Bruce Lee, president of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, referring to the city manager’s compensation and calling staff salaries “enormous.” He was joined at a podium by Councilman Bret Daniels, who is running for the city’s District 1 seat this year, along with council District 3 candidate Tim Schaefer and Cathy Cook, who is running against Ken Cooley for California’s 8th Assembly District.

Daniels, the only current member of the council to vote against placing Measure M on the ballot, blamed the city’s budget troubles on “this building,” pointing to City Hall behind him and noting its cost of $22 million. The city had paid for the hall using cash reserves in 2016, which have now dwindled.

“They want more money for their mistake,” said Daniels, referring to the City Hall expense. “I don’t think we should have to pay for their mistake.”

Defenders of the new hall have said its net impact on the city’s general fund is projected to be only about $8.9 million after 15 years, largely due to $6.9 million in lease payments coming from the medical building now occupying the old City Hall property, as well as projected energy savings from the new, more efficient facility.

If passed by voters in November, Measure M will increase the sales tax rate from 7.75% up to 8.75% in Citrus Heights. The tax is projected to add $12 million to the city’s General Fund budget, which had expenditures of around $31 million last year and is projected to have shortfalls over the next decade.

Advocates say the tax is needed to fill vacant positions in the police department, repave roads and pay for other city services, while opponents point to the measure’s wording that allows for tax revenues to go towards “any lawful municipal purpose.”

Comment from City Hall was sought during the rally, but doors were closed to the public due to COVID-19, except to allow for voting in the community room. An email to the city manager’s office offering opportunity to respond to claims made during the rally was not returned.

Assembly candidate Cathy Cook during the rally called city salaries “way out of touch” and advocated that city staff take a pay cut. She said the 1% sales tax increase, though small, would come on top of already-high taxes residents pay like income and property tax. Mentioning impacts of COVID-19, she said “a little tax reduction” would be more appropriate.

A Sentinel analysis of 2019 city salaries from California’s Public Pay website found total pay to city staff amounted to $19 million, meaning an across-the-board pay cut of 10% would have saved about $1.9 million last year.

Speakers at the rally also said the city’s budget troubles are only short term, due to the city beginning to receive property tax revenue in two years, which will boost the city’s general fund by an estimated $6 million. Proponents, however, say the city will still have shortfalls even when factoring in property tax revenue, and the city says at least $7.6 million in additional funding per year is needed to maintain deteriorating roads.

Rally attendee James Remick, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, told The Sentinel the long tenure of some members of the council has led to repeated approvals of pay increases for “their buddies.”

“It’s ridiculous how much we’re paying these people,” said Remick, who previously ran twice for City Council.

The 45-minute event concluded with a message to residents to get involved in local government, and not “abdicate responsibility” after delegating responsibility to local leaders through the voting process. Attendees were urged to vote, get friends to vote, and pray for leaders and the election.

The Sentinel reached out to the Yes on M campaign with an opportunity to respond to claims made at the rally regarding city salaries and expenditures. Their statement is included below:

Public officials’ compensation is posted on a government website. These 2019 figures don’t reflect that the Assistant Police Chief position was for one year while our Police Chief served as President of the CA Police Chief’s Association, requiring him to be out of town extensively. When the Assistant Chief Gina Anderson became the police chief in Newark, the position was reclassified to lieutenant – saving $50,000 per year.

This past year the city manager has shaved off about $1 million in expenses, mostly in salary savings. When Chris Boyd took over as city manager, he inherited 6 department heads. He has cut that in half by combining departments, and taking on extra duties himself. Today, the city runs an even leaner shop than we have had historically. Police Chief Ron Lawrence runs the police department. Assistant City Manager Ronda Rivera directs HR and finance, and Director Colleen McDuffee directs community development. City Manager Chris Boyd directs all other departments including IT and economic development.

It is disingenuous of the No on Measure M committee, headed by Councilmember Bret Daniels, to publish these statistics without telling the whole story. The city has responded proactively to the declining revenues that resulted from the decline of Sunrise Mall, increased Internet sales and then the effects of COVID19.

This is typical of the rhetoric of the No on Measure M committee. They are deceiving people by twisting the truth, such as the true cost to build city hall ($8 million for a $23 million building) because Dignity Health bought the old city hall property. Add to that the cost savings that result from no longer throwing tax payer money down the sink hole of maintaining old leaky, uninsulated and moldy buildings. They ignore the strides the city continues to make on a very slim budget.

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