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Council meeting focuses on public input

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Tuesday night’s briefer-than-usual City Council meeting centered on public comments. Public comment from seven members of the public took up the majority of the hour-long meeting, including questions from Lincoln resident Fred Gibbs, who wanted further clarification on an agenda item that was later passed by the council. The agenda item regarded the city’s agreement to join the Green Communities Program with the Sierra Business Council. Assembly Bill 32 requires that local governments reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent by 2020, according to economic and redevelopment director Steve Art, and joining the Green Communities Program would help the city reach that goal. “I just have some questions,” Gibbs said. “Whose idea was this, how did we get involved, and how much is it going to cost?” Art said the city was contacted by the Sierra Business Council, who “has been contracted to manage several of PG&E’s energy efficiency programs throughout the Sierra Nevada.” “It will cost us absolutely nothing but some staff time,” Art said. As part of the city’s participation in the Green Communities Program, the greenhouse gas emissions of city-owned vehicles and buildings owned by the city will be evaluated, according to Art. “The Sierra Business Council, through grants, will be doing the evaluations and will provide an intern to work with city staff to do monitoring,” Art said. “There won’t be any cost.” Lincoln residents David Masche and Tom Augustine’s comments concerned health benefits and retirements for city employees. Masche told the council that the city’s liability for retired health benefits, according to an actuarial report received by the city, is $8.5 million. “We need to address the situation now and I suggest we start now by eliminating benefits for part- time employees, including City Council, in my opinion,” Masche said. “If we don’t get on these issues, these things will kill us.” Augustine questioned the city’s process regarding changing the city’s California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) rates. “I think it was four weeks ago we had a long conversation about pension problems with CalPERS and staff was instructed to come back with options in December,” Augustine said. “I’m a little bit confused because last week in The News Messenger, I read a quote that indicated there’s a tiered pension system for new employees.” Mayor Tom Cosgrove confirmed that the city has agreements with “all but one union” for the tiered pension system. “We do not have the system in place,” City Manager Jim Estep said. Estep explained that the approval of the two-tiered PERS system would take “a resolution from the council.” “There’s still work to be done but we do have agreements to go to a two-tiered system but we do not have that in place,” Estep said. Augustine did not mince words with his response. “If that’s the case, I’m sorely disappointed with the council and staff because I thought you were talking about a defined compensation system to get us out of PERS,” Augustine said. Cosgrove told Augustine “you’re wrong.” “You are making an assumption that that’s the end of the conversation. We have taken a very positive step in the right direction,” Cosgrove said. “We are continuing the discussion and looking at options.” Newcastle resident Jim Macauley questioned the council about why his proposition during the Sept. 28 City Council meeting for a presentation about the city ‘s finances was rejected. “The reason I asked for it in the first place was because of if voters would like to know how much cash the city has and how it’s invested,” Macauley said. “That presentation has apparently been rejected by the finance committee.” Cosgrove cited the city’s low staff-count as a reason why the presentation was not added to Tuesday’s City Council agenda, since city staff needs complete the audit for the previous fiscal year to “get the budget reconciled for last year so we can start the process of preparing the budget.” “I appreciate your request,” Cosgrove said. “At this point, the priority is to put staff time towards finishing the audit so we can set the foundation for the budget.” Steve Krueger, a Lincoln police officer, spoke on behalf of Protect Lincoln, a proponent of Measure K, also known as the 3.75 percent utility users’ tax placed on the November ballot by the City Council. Krueger told the council that he’s “heard many comments and concerns regarding the UUT, or Measure K” over the past few months, one being that city employees, including public safety, should take pay cuts and the other that the city should “tap into reserves and borrow city funds.” “We lost six fine officers last year and this year were asked to give up raises. We are faced with losing our cars, houses and livelihood,” Krueger said. “Today, we lost one well-rounded sergeant to another agency.” Krueger also said two officers are looking for employment elsewhere, and Lincoln police Lt. Paul Shelgren told The News Messenger after the meeting that two officers have job offers elsewhere. “They are doing this because they can’t afford to take more pay cuts,” Krueger said. He added that the officers are doing so “because they don’t know if they’ll have jobs” if Measure K doesn’t pass. Krueger also addressed comments about the city using reserves or borrowing from other city funds. “If we tap into reserves, maybe we can avoid layoffs briefly but reserves dry up,” Krueger said. “As far as borrowing goes, I don’t think it’s borrowing if you can’t pay it back.” Krueger cited Sunday morning’s fire at Glen Edwards Middle School and the homicide Sunday night as a reason why Measure K is needed. “Please help us provide police and fire services so we can do what we do, protect you and your loved ones,” Krueger said.