To be sure, at $250,000-plus a year, the city manager's gesture is more symbolic than truly painful. By comparison, the city's lower-paid workers are undoubtedly in great need of whatever salary boost they can get. Even the middle and upper managers — the 200 or so city employees who make over $100,000 a year — probably are much more reliant on those raises.
But the idea is sound. Without counting benefits, compensation alone for all city employees has gone up 16 percent ($8.5 million) in the last two years. It is easy to see why city employees should volunteer to at least give up the cost-of-living increases due to kick in this July.
Just like a private business that must make ends meet, the city is facing tough decisions during the economic downturn. Costs keep going up and Duggan estimates the city's income will remain stagnant for the next few years. If personnel costs continue to rise and nothing is done, the city could have a $15 million deficit by 2012, and will either have to use reserves to pay its bills, lay off workers or cut basic services.
Another course, as the city manager suggests, is to hold back on pay and cost-of-living increases for as long as possible. Coupled with other possible cuts that he laid out to the City Council last week, the city could conceivably bring its spending into line with revenues without cutting positions.
The council members, at least three of whom were less than enthusiastic about the city manager's plans, want more information, as do the city's unions. But we fear that few alternatives to painful sacrifices will be found.
If the city manager can eliminate at least a good chunk of the expected deficit by convincing most city employees to forgo the pending increases, it will be tremendously helpful in balancing next year's budget. We urge the city's employees to facilitate the process, as they did in 2003-04.
This year the situation is just as drastic, if not more so. City employees have enjoyed substantial pay increases during the last few years, and today, with few other options before us, it seems appropriate for them to make sacrifices where possible to help Mountain View weather this economic crisis.