At a time when most municipalities are driving toward tightened budgets and benefits, Long Beach is flirting with a wrong turn.
At a recent City Council meeting, the public heard a proposal to reduce the amount of time municipal managers have to work to earn lifetime health benefits, and to end the age restriction on when they can "retire." Currently, the city's 19 management employees are eligible for those benefits at age 55 with 15 years on the job, or after 30 years of service with no age restriction.
The flawed proposal would have lowered the required time to 10 years, or five years if the employee also has five years with the state, the military or another municipality. The age restriction would be dropped completely. That plan, which would have been voted on at council's meeting this Tuesday, was questioned by council members and residents, then tabled. City Manager Jack Schnirman says that version of the plan is dead, but other ways to make the benefit easier to earn are being considered.
He says it's very hard to hire managers in the city, where every election seems to flip the party in power and cost some management employees their posts. But that's an extraordinarily expensive way to attract employees. City officials even admit they can't project the cost of managers who retire from the city young and then claim health benefits forever.
Long Beach generated an $18-million deficit between 2008 and 2012. It has rightfully dealt with the crisis by raising taxes and cutting costs dramatically. If enticing managers is so difficult, the city would be better off raising salaries which it would pay on an ongoing basis, rather than creating massive future health care obligations.
Loosening the rules doesn't make economic sense, especially not for taxpayers who can't even dream of such benefits.