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Working together for the sake of National City Chris Zapata | Sun, Jul 17 2011 12:00 PM

Vision, community support and persistence are key ingredients in building a better community.
Another key ingredient is the employees that work to make cities safer, parks cleaner and roads better. In National City’s case, employees are working effectively to create a more sustainable community.

Employees are also participating in solving the problem of stagnant revenue and growing expenses
by paying all or more of their pension costs, making National City a leader in pension reform.
Much has been written about the economic problems facing city governments over the past
few years. This has resulted in a great deal of change in National City’s organization. With sustainability
being a key City Council goal, many strategic decisions have been made to deliver quality services in a weak and precarious economy. These include: 1) Efficiency measures that change the way a city provides
services and spends taxpayer money 2) Aggressive economic development to replace and create new money, 3) Employee participation through idea generation and budget relief
via pension participation and other money-saving measures such as unpaid furloughs.

Local pension programs have been rightly scrutinized over the last couple of years as the triple whammy of a terrible economy, low interest rates and upgraded compensation programs created a fiscal tsunami.
When National City received its estimates for significantly higher employee costs in 2004, leaders were given choices that were very clear. One of these choices was long term sustainability.

Intense community dialogue created a three pronged approach of efficiency, new revenue and employee participation to meet this goal.

Pension reform in National City began February of 2006 when the mayor, city council and city manager voluntarily agreed to contribute two percent of salary for pension payments. Prior to that, taxpayers
paid all pension costs for employees.

The employee cost is eight percent of salary except for police and firefighters which is nine percent. Future
agreements followed so that senior executives participated as well, paying two percent of their pension costs. This was mirrored by the police union agreeing to pay two percent of their pension share and our municipal employee group paying three percent. These give backs help bridge city budget gaps.
National City still has budget gaps and is having positive discussions about sustainability
with its bargaining units. As it relates to pension reform – leadership does begin at the top.

What began in February of 2006 has culminated in the mayor, city council, city manager, city attorney and all senior leadership now paying their full eight percent cost – one of a few cities in the state that can make
this claim. In addition, National City has attacked our pension and sustainability challenge by rolling back pensions in a comprehensive manner. Other tools include freezing executive pay
at 2002 levels, using one time bonus payments instead of salary increases, strategic reorganization
by eliminating over 20 executive and manager positions and lowering employee
count from approximately 400 to 315 full time employees.

Sustainability is easy to talk about, but takes a persistent and team approach to achieve.
Our progress has been achieved by our employees systematically focusing on the bottom line
along with fewer employees working harder to maintain appropriate service levels to our residents, businesses and visitors.

Our elected leaders led by example and understand that employees are the biggest part of delivering services expected by our citizenry. Our employees understand that in difficult times, shared sacrifice is necessary as public servants.

Zapata is the National City City Manager.

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