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Game Plan - Councilman Presents Ideas To Solve Debt
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Oakdale City Councilman Tom Dunlop is adamant that the city can’t continue doing business as it has in the past.

With the city facing close to a $1 million shortfall, Dunlop presented a list of nine suggestions at the May 21 council meeting to assist the city in getting back on track as city officials prepare for the 2012-13 budget.

“These are ideas to just talk about,” said Dunlop on Wednesday. “We’re in a situation where we can’t spend any more money. People are going to be put in a situation to explain why we do the things we do a certain way.”

Dunlop is suggesting putting caps in place for vacation and sick leave time. He is recommending a “use it or lose it” policy much like the private sector.

“People retire and we can’t backfill their position for a while due to their vacation totals,” he said. “Other cities’ totals for their employees are not as high as ours. If a number of our long-term employees were to retire right now, we could have to pay out in the six-figures.”

Oakdale has compensated departing employees more than $1.1 million in accumulated leave time over the last four years.

Last April Oakdale paid former City Manager Steve Hallam $75,675 for his accumulated leave time when the council removed him. Former Police Chief Marty West and Community Development Director Danielle Stylos each received over $50,000 in their leave time payouts when they left the city earlier this year.

Another proposal is that the city can save over $115,000 per year by having city employees pay their full retirement contribution. Currently the city requires employees to pay only five percent of the 7-9 percent contribution.

Dunlop proposed tapping into Measure O funds and selling the Hershey Visitors Center and land near Greger Road Park to pay off the city’s $4.6 million side fund debt to CalPERS when it upgraded the retirement benefit in 2002. Dunlop stated the interest on the debt, charged at 7.6 percent, requires a $349,000 payment per year.

Stricter expense monitoring and not creating more ongoing expenses are on Dunlop’s radar as priorities as well. Dunlop identified the police budget which consistently is over budget in overtime.

“We need to look at creative ways of using reserve officers for a vacant shift or seeing if they can work down an officer when someone is off sick or on vacation,” Dunlop said.

The two-term councilman believes the city needs to take a close look at potential projects that would create additional expense to the city. He points to the future skate park that he feels would be costly to maintain as well as increased liability and attorney fees.

“We already have a senior center we can’t afford,” Dunlop said. “People are going to need to decide do they want a police department, a senior center, or a skate park.”

Dunlop’s proposals are not without its critics, especially from employee labor organizations.

“You can’t balance the city budget on the backs of the employees,” said Operating Engineers Local 3 Business Representative Mike Eggener, who represents the city’s public works and miscellaneous workforce. “To require employees to pay for these things now is wrong. They’ve been negotiated.”

Eggener, a former Oakdale Police Sergeant, said that in his career with the city there were times during contract negotiations that a pay raise would be sacrificed in lieu of the city picking up the employee’s PERS tab.

“Mr. Dunlop has been part of the problem for so long and now is looking for a quick fix,” said Eggener. “He’s publicly ignored employee ideas for change in the past.”

Eggener wasn’t totally at odds with Dunlop’s ideas stating he understood “in theory” the need for a negotiated leave cap and also saw the validity in not creating any new expenses to the city.

Doug Gorman, who represents the city’s police officers and civilian police employees, said police employees have been the leader in making concessions and foresees additional cuts harming the city’s ability to retain trained experienced officers.

“If you’re asking a person to pin on a badge and risk his life every night, the least you can do is pay and benefit them,” Gorman said.

Gorman also identified a parallel to how the crime rate for Oakdale has risen as police staffing has dropped. He also warned that officers working with an additional vacant position, as proposed by Dunlop, would create a severe risk to their safety and the ability to adequately handle calls for service.

“Most days you only have two or three officers on duty at the same time you have six firemen in a station,” Gorman said. “You can’t cut the police more than you have.”

The city will hold a budget workshop on Wednesday, May 30 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers.