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Radio Outlet Profiles Firefighter Pension Pinch

NPR examines long-term trends; last two ConFire meetings on station closure plans are tonight in Walnut Creek, Wednesday night in Clayton.

The firefighter pension crisis in Contra Costa County has lit a fire under National Public Radio.

The national outlet has done a long news feature on the relationship between Contra Costa County Fire Protection District and the county's taxpayers.

Correspondent Caitlin Kenney says, "The fact is there aren't as many fires as there used to be. Smoke alarms, sprinklers and new building codes have changed life for firefighters. And that's got people here asking, if the fire department is changing, why is it still costing us so much?"

When the economy went sour, firefighters and retired firefighters were taken aback by the public's change in attitude. People used to buy retired firefighters drinks. But now, says retired fire captain Jaad Ajlouny, "Just sitting around in a bar, you know, minding my own business and a guy yells over: Hey, Jaad, come on over here and buy me a drink with that retirement I paid for."

The defeat of a tax measure in November caused ConFire to go ahead with a plan to close stations in Lafayette, Martinez and Walnut Creek, and restrict hours at the station in Clayton. The last couple of a series of meetings discussing the implications of those closures are tonight in Walnut Creek and Wednesday night in Clayton:

  • 7 p.m. tonight (Tuesday) at Walnut Heights Elementary School, 4064 Walnut Blvd., Walnut Creek.
  • 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Clayton Community Library, 6125 Clayton Road, Clayton.
Dive Turn Work January 23, 2013 at 06:20 PM
Some don't understand economics and many simply didn't care because the problem would occur down the road and not on their watch. The earlier politicians could say, "See. We didn't give any raises or very minimal ones." But they would neglect to point out that they promised incredibly lucrative pensions that would eventually come due and those promised pensions had the potential to drive taxpayers and government entities to the brink of bankruptcy.
Dive Turn Work January 23, 2013 at 06:23 PM
Acknowledging the truth and the problems is not being an enemy to the firefighters. I like firefighters. I want them to enjoy a comfortable retirement for a job well done and much appreciated. However, I don't want to be taxed to death or driven to the point of bankruptcy in the name of their pensions. There has to be a happy medium between the two extremes of bankrupting retired firefighters or bankrupting the governments/taxpayers. Both sides need to give up things and move to the middle.
Chris Nicholson January 23, 2013 at 06:34 PM
Ironic that the problem is framed in terms of economics. If citizens and politicians understood economics, they would not tolerate the status quo structure of public sector collective bargaining. The problem is related to the concept of "Agency Costs" which is the inherent tendency for hired representatives to behave in THEIR self interest versus the interests of those who hired them. This does not necessarily imply corruption/embezzlement, but (without thoughtful countermeasures) it VIRTUALLY ALWAYS means that the representative won't be as careful with dealings with third parties because HEY, IT'S NOT HIS MONEY. This core problem is that the people who are supposed to be "on the other side of the table" from public sector unions often AREN'T. In a best case scenario, they will try to get a good deal for taxpayers, but they won't sweat it too much. In summary, this is a structural problem, not a question of the qualifications of the people we put into existing seats in the current structure....
Richard Kline January 23, 2013 at 10:49 PM
I've been listening to the Democrats and it sounds like if we keep taxing "rich"people, bang zoom, all of our budget problems are solved. So how about taxing public employees who receive a pension of $200k in order to fund these massive shortfalls?
Cautiously Informed March 01, 2013 at 12:29 AM
Maybe NPR will tell the truth about pensions, unlike Daniel Boringstien, and his slanted versions of the situation.

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