Thursday, April 10, 2014

Vote 'No' on fire, emergency services levy that funds PERS

The city of Bend is seeking $10 million on May 20 to cover its liability for retiring firefighters and emergency medical personnel in the Public Employees Retirement System.

Yet, the city is claiming that it needs the money to improve response times.

Oh really.

With real estate prices reaching to the skies again, the city is taking in property tax revenue almost on par with pre-recession levels.

If the rationale against a gas tax is that we have far more homes than ever in Bend to pay for road maintenance, then it follows that the property taxes on these homes should be far more than enough to cover what the fire and emergency workers need to adequately serve the city.

Most citizens have never used the services of the fire department. In 30 years here, I've called the fire department once, and that was about 28 years ago.

Also, thankfully, I've never needed the services of emergency medical staff.

Now, these services are vital to our community. Yet, they do not supersede all other services from road maintenance to water to sewer.

There is a sexist attitude that supports PERS for male-dominated professions, like firefighting, but rejects retirement payments when the recipients are educators, who are mostly women.

The levy request would average about $60 a year for most Bend property taxpayers and raise $10 million over five years.

The fire department claims that their response times do not meet national standards. The reason for this disparity is that the railroad divides the city with no overpasses in the southeast section of town. And, $10 million would not even pay for one overpass.

The fire department is facing retirement of "baby boomers" and must figure out a way to pay for firefighters' generous monthly retirement checks.

But, the city can't ask residents to pay for the PERS payments because most citizens would reject such a request since the Great Recession wiped out most retirement plans of private-sector workers.

So, the city is couching this levy request as a need to improve services.

Well, the city is being dishonest. If it asked citizens to help offset the city's PERS' liability then I would be more supportive.

But, it is not.

When taxpayers voted against paying for the expansion of the county jail recently, Deschutes County found a way to pay for the expansion anyway.

Therefore, vote "No" on the city's request for more money. Our growth should pay for this improvement of city services.

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