Good work, if you can get it

News10.net runs a story about how there will now be “Fewer police on Sacramento streets” because of, well you know, the economy.

Data collected from the Bureau of Justice statistics shows: In 2007, the national average for city police to residents ratio was 2.3 officers for every 1,000 residents. By comparison, after this most recent layoff, Sacramento has 659 sworn officers – giving the city about 1.45 sworn officers to every 1,000 residents. That’s nearly 2/3 the 2007 national average.

Now, they’re are not saying you should go commit a crime now, but they are positioned to tell you “I told you so” if you did. Or, am I missing the point of this story? You have a 25 million dollar budget deficit. You have to cut jobs, right? Or, maybe salaries?

Then, I hop over to sacbee.com where I learn that “Sac Metro’s new chief played role in Vallejo bankruptcy” which is another clever headline.

As chief, Henke will handle contract negotiations for a department that in 2009 paid its employees an average salary of $132,000, the highest of any fire department in the capital region, according to state controller’s data.

(spits out coffee on laptop keyboard) $132K! While I am sure there is more to this stuff, it does seem that salaries and benefits could be adjusted a bit to allow for more people to have jobs if you really wanted to reduce lay offs. Otherwise, sell your catchy headlines somewhere else, right?

My point is that when times get tough, families, businesses, the government, etc. need to balance their checkbooks, right? I really can’t stand to read an article about how we can’t fix a pothole at an intersection because the city doesn’t have the 2.4 million it would take to fix it. The focus is always on not having enough money rather than asking why does fixing a pothole cost 2.4 million dollars? Or even worse, what if you do have the money?

The quarter-mile International Drive extension is a six-lane thorough-fare that connects Kilgore Road to Sunrise Boulevard and converts International Drive into a major east-west regional arterial road. The $17 million project includes intersection improvements, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and a bridge over Folsom South Canal.

(after cleaning up laptop keyboard, drops coffee mug on floor) 17 million for a 1/4 mile extension? Really?

So, what’s everyone doing for the 4th of July?

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Author: RonTopofIt

RonTopofIt is a complex personality, as are most of the small breed of modern day renaissance millionaires. He wishes more people were like him and yet believes that it takes all kinds. You've met RonTopofIt many times, you just don't remember him.

17 thoughts on “Good work, if you can get it”

  1. First off, you’re right about the ridiculous Sac Metro Fire salaries. City Fireman don’t make as much but they’re pretty high also.

    As far as the 17 million you reference in your last paragraph, that sort of redevelopment money cannot, by law, be used for general fund expenditures (police, fire, potholes, etc.)

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  2. Thanks for the comment, John J.

    RE the 17 million, did the project *have* to cost 17 million? Is that a fixed price or are those sorts of contracts put out for bid?

    I’m looking for a new driveway to be put in and I’ve received bids that range from 5K to 20K. Am I crazy to think that redevelopment jobs can’t follow the same structure?

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  3. Highway construction typically costs about $10 million per lane per mile, so a quarter-mile segment of six-lane highway will cost about $15 million, so $17 million isn’t too far out of whack. That’s just kind of how much stuff costs. It may seem appalling if you are unfamiliar with the amount of materials and planning it takes to slap down a quarter-mile of highway, but generally, if you don’t know things it’s hazardous to make assumptions about how much they should cost.

    Let’s assume for a moment that highways are simply strips of concrete the same thickness as a highway (Actually, they aren’t, they are several times thicker, with safety, lighting, signage and other infrastructure.) I’ll assume your driveway is 10 feet wide and 50 feet long. That’s 500 square feet, meaning the bids you got vary from $10 to $40 per square foot.

    Now, that six-lane, quarter-mile road includes 72 feet of lane (12 feet per lane) and 40 feet of shoulder (10 feet on each side for each direction) and is 1320 feet (1/4 mile) long–that’s 147,480 square feet. Thus, based on your driveway bids, the same strip of highway should cost $1.475 million-$5.914 million. This project also includes sidewalks, bike lanes, and other pedestrian improvements, which will add quite a few thousand more square feet of concrete–call it a range of about $2-8 million for the concrete part alone.

    But remember, public roads don’t just carry our one car, traveling at low speeds–it carries thousands and thousands of cars, and heavy trucks. So it has to be a lot thicker than your driveway. Let’s just figure it’s twice as thick–bringing the range to $4-16 million. It also has to be flatter, utilities have to run over and under it, signals, street lighting, signs, etcetera go into the project too. And someone has to actually plan it–you can’t just jot this stuff down on the back of a napkin and submit it for construction.

    Finally, figure that the guys charging closer to $5K is probably hiring folks who are, shall we say, hanging out at the Home Depot parking lot, and thus doesn’t have to worry about niceties like minimum wage or OSHA regulations. He probably won’t be available if there ends up being a problem with the driveway later on. Since this project will end up being public right-of-way, it’s probably best to skip the fly-by-night operators and go with someone who can ensure that the public’s money isn’t being spent on the cheapest, worst garbage.

    The other problem I note is that while Sacramento police are being laid off, this project is going on in Rancho Cordova, a totally different city. Even if cities could easily move money around from capital budgets for road construction to salaries (which they can’t), it may be helpful to note that Rancho Cordova and Sacramento are not the same city, and as popular of an idea as it seems to be, there isn’t just a giant roomful of money that all governments can go yank out great wads of cash at will. That money comes from our taxes, and many folks seem very concerned about how those taxes are spent, so we create laws which are very specific about how that money is disbursed.

    As to how much fire chiefs make, look up how much folks in the private sector make for similar amounts of responsibility…or, better yet, if you really want to give your monitor another coat of coffee/saliva, go look up how much the folks on the high end of the private sector make. That $132K drops down into the busboy range, if not the “guys hanging out in front of Home Depot” salary range, compared to what the sweet end of the private sector scale makes (as opposed to the foul-smelling end.)

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  4. wburg – Surely you’re not saying that (aside from street signs etc) the government does not incur ANY costs that don’t have an equivalent charge to a homeowner building his own driveway. In your opinion does the government never waste money, or spend money based on debatable regulations etc.?

    I’d love to know the cost of building say, Interstate 80 in today’s dollars. Having trouble finding that.

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  5. Oh I should add that I am not implying that there is government waste going on with the Rancho build. Just calling out the pointlessness of the comparison.

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  6. “Surely you’re not saying that (aside from street signs etc) the government does not incur ANY costs that don’t have an equivalent charge to a homeowner building his own driveway.”

    Hang on a minute, it’s going to take me a sec to figure out what this sentence means…Okay.

    Surely, I am saying that the government does incur costs that have an equivalent charge to a homeowner building his driveway. By comparing your driveway estimate to the cost of road construction, you did just that–all I did was compare the size of your driveway to the size of the project and do the math.

    Of course the government wastes money. So does private industry. So do private individuals. Heck, I wasted some money just the other day. It happens, and the larger the organization (public or private), the more waste there probably is. But that is a product of large organizations, not necessarily inherent to government. And private-sector waste tends to be focused at the top–those obscene CEO salaries and bonuses, for example. Or even private companies who submit inflationary bids to build highways!

    All government regulations are debatable, so of course the government spends money due to debatable regulations. But I think it’s better that we are able to debate about regulations, compared to the alternative, being told that the regulations are sacred and we can’t call them into question, don’t you?

    As to the cost of I-80 if it was built today, again, the cost would probably be about $10 million per lane per mile, plus the cost of grading, filling, bridges, and assorted infrastructure. I leave the total estimated construction cost as an exercise for the reader.

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  7. wburg, CoolDMZ wrote the “surely” comment, I wrote the post.

    While my points were disjointed, my main point wasn’t about the cost of building roads. I was more concerned with reducing costs in these tough economic times and how we often hear about needing more money to pay for stuff rather than reviewing pricing structures.

    As your good friend, sac-eats, noted, I am clearly over my head in this debate and I concede to your class and reason.

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  8. Yes I apologize for taking the discussion off-topic.

    However, all RTOI did was ask a question about how much these things generally cost. I don’t understand why you can’t just answer the question without getting a dig in about making assumptions.

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  9. “As to how much fire chiefs make, look up how much folks in the private sector make for similar amounts of responsibility”
    The folks in the private sector don’t have the same benefits as our union protected public servants. About 6 years ago I worked at a place that did away with pensions, the old people there screamed bloody murder, the young people there scratched their head and said “what’s a pension?”.
    This comparison is a bit of a “tu quoque” because while the folks in the private sector MIGHT be making more than the unionist, they are also generating revenue, goods, services, etc. whereas the public servant is doing a job that (while necessary and honorable) doesn’t, and never will, generate profits.

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  10. RTOI: Okay then…let’s assume that the city of Rancho Cordova reduced its road-building budget to zero, in an effort to help Sacramento pay for more police officers. How much more money would the city of Sacramento have in its general fund to pay police officers, and how are the two related?

    My intent was to illustrate the pointlessness of the comparison (the answer to the question I just posed is “none whatsoever,” because they are two different cities) as well as explain why the Rancho Cordova project might cost $17 million, which was the other part of your original post.

    And sorry if you got hip by some of the shrapnel aimed at CoolDMZ.

    Jose: A lot more private sector workers used to have defined-benefit pensions until the sharp decline in union power allowed the private sector to take those rights away, until we have reached the point where younger workers don’t even realize they ever existed. Rather than representing a “tu quoque”, I am literally asking for a direct comparsion between those salary structures (including the cost of benefits) rather than the simple assumption that, no matter how little or much a public-sector employee makes, it is too much, because I think they should make less–not based on any actual information or comparison, but just because I think that’s how it should be.

    As to generating profits–I think capitalism is swell and such, but it seems like there might be other important things than generating profits, like actually creating products and providing services that are valuable. I think you would agree that firemen provide services that are valuable, in that their actions protect the value of private property (if a building burns down, the productive value of that building and activities that go on inside it are lost.) Compare this to, let’s say, someone in the finance industry, whose main job does not actually create things or provide services, but merely thinks up way to turn imaginary pieces of paper into more imaginary pieces of paper, and whose actions are based on the assumption taht the creation of more imaginary pieces of paper is more important than potential repercussions to the world around them should something in their system go awry. Who is more useful, who provides and protects real value and wealth?

    By the way, I’m going to a neighborhood chili cook-off for the 4th, probably followed by fireworks (depending on how spicy the chili is.)

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  11. What did I do or say that required droppin bombs, yo? I asked to confirm or deny an assumption I made, and I asked you a simple question, which you answered.

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  12. The truth is that sustainable private sector businesses never provided pensions that allowed the average pensioners to enjoy 15-20 years (or more) of retirement while receiving the majority of their highest working wage.

    That kind of actuarial math doesn’t work in the private sector, and is equally unsustainable in the public sector. The private sector was happy to give a pension to employees starting at age 65 when the average worker lived to 68.

    Now the average firefighter enjoys almost 30 yrs of well subsidized retirement, while the union-political complex portrays anyone who questions the fiscal sanity of this as “anti-firefighter”.

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  13. Both my father and my grandmother that I know facts of received pensions after retirement from the private sector of approximately half their final salaries and that was considered normal in the 1960’s, perhaps contrary to Mr. Cogmeyer’s assertion of never.
    It was also before the outrageous CEO pay and Golden Parachute era Mr. Burg references.
    At some point, I think we have to realize it isn’t a fight between private and public employees. The big problem is that we quit taxing the rich folks and corporations somewhere along the line. That money got chipped away and now we squabble amongst ourselves.
    I like to blame Ronald Reagan but others may differ.

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  14. Richard L
    You missed my point.

    50 years ago, expected lifespans were substantially shorter. So a company actually could provide a 50% pension for an average of 5-10 years and still stay in business. The public pensions we are dealing with now are quite different animal, and public sector pension greed will be their downfall.

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  15. To be fair, private sector pensions are a mess as well. See Mark Steyn’s classic comment about GM being “a massive pension fund with a small auto subsidiary.”

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