Bankrupt Cities

Bankrupt San Bernardino Spends $1 Million on Police Raises

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A city charter apparently is a suicide pact

In our November Reason magazine feature, "How to Break an American City," we highlighted the dysfunctional fiscal policies driving municipalities into the poorhouse. I made note of a specific policy in the city charter for San Bernardino, California, which was approved to enter bankruptcy earlier this year.

San Bernardino's charter requires that the city tie the wages of its public safety employees to the averages of those paid in nearby cities with similar population sizes. Unfortunately, San Bernardino is the poorest of those cities, meaning it is legally bound to pay its police and firefighters much more than its market can bear. As a result, even while making its case for bankruptcy months ago, the City Council voted to increase some police salaries. They did so again just last week.

Courtesy of CalPensions and Public CEO:

Following the city charter, a reluctant San Bernardino city council last week approved a police pay raise costing about $1 million, the second $1 million police salary increase since the city filed for bankruptcy last year.

The four council members who voted for the 3 percent pay hike all criticized a city charter provision linking San Bernardino to the average police pay in 10 other cities, most much wealthier with higher per-capita income.

When a pay hike was approved last March, the city attorney, James Penman, and a councilman, Robert Jenkins, argued competitive pay attracts quality officers to combat a high crime rate. Penman was recalled last month, and Jenkins was not re-elected.

"I think most residents are puzzled and outraged that we are compelled during bankruptcy to provide substantial pay increases," a newly elected councilman, Jim Mulvihill, said last week. "Not only that, it's not any negotiation within our community."

Several groups pushed to repeal the charter provision after the bankruptcy. But the city council chose not to put a repeal measure on the ballot last month, citing short timelines and ballot costs, the San Bernardino Sun reported.

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