Hey, recent high school and college graduates looking for a career. Do we have a deal for you.
Well, to be honest, it’s not us providing the deal. It’s the city of Santa Maria, whose City Council last week unanimously approved budget amendments creating 57 new job openings ... and city officials say they are ready to hire.
The city is on a hiring spree the likes of which has never been experienced in Santa Maria municipal government, thanks in large part to funds coming in from Measure U, approved by voters last year and which kicked in starting April 1.
Measure U raised the city’s sales tax from a quarter-cent to a full penny — something very few consumers will even notice, but which has juiced up city revenues by $13 million a year. Of the 57 new positions created by the council action, 36 will be paid for with revenues from Measure U.
There is a very big fly fluttering in this fiscal soup, however, and we’ll get to that in a moment.
Of the 36 jobs being funded by Measure U, 28 will occur in the Police and Fire Departments. The tax revenues also will provide funding for four new jobs in the Recreation and Parks Department, and four positions at the Santa Maria Public Library. That last one means the library will now be able to open on Sundays.
What do you say, grads? Do you see the great opportunities for a career with the city? There certainly is opportunity for recent graduates of Allan Hancock College, which has trained many of the public safety officers already on the job.
Given the fact that Santa Maria has officially surpassed Santa Barbara as the county’s biggest city, population-wise, a career with the city definitely has legs, in large part because Santa Maria is likely to continue this growth spurt.
City officials are making all the smart moves to ease Santa Maria into the future. More and more businesses and industries are showing interest in moving here. City planners have put together a sweet strategy for making the downtown core more appealing to locals and visitors, which has encouraged infill and mixed-use development.
Now, a word or two about the aforementioned giant fly in the soup. It’s the same critter that plagues Santa Barbara County government and just about every level of government in California — pension costs that are soaring far beyond that government’s ability to pay.
In Santa Maria’s case, it’s the 2019-20 obligation to CalPERS, the state’s pension plan overseer. The bill for this budget cycle comes to $17.6 million, or about $4.4 million higher than the bill for the last budget cycle. And it’s an ever-escalating cost. The city’s CalPERS obligation in the 2006-07 budget cycle was $5.4 million, total.
When a government entity cannot meet its CalPERS obligation, it gets sent to the state’s doghouse, officially known as the “terminated agency pool.”
Frankly, this is more of a state problem than a local issue, because the escalating costs are partly a function of CalPERS’ sketchy investment strategies over the years. Still, local governments stay on the hook due to overly-enthusiastic promises to workers regarding retirement benefits.
That’s a big can that likely will continue to be kicked down the road, but at some point there will need to be a resolution, and the smart money is on reduced retiree benefits.
For now, young people seeking careers should focus on the multiple job opportunities opening within Santa Maria’s government. It’s a good time to be job hunting.