By Deb Murphy

With negotiations still deadlocked, Inyo County Employees Association members held a peaceful picket at the County’s administrative offices on May Street in Bishop last Wednesday, April 26h. This issue is as much about respect and being valued, according to negotiation team member Chris Jackson.

The union, Local 325 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has dropped their cost-of-living increase request from 4-percent to 2-percent; the County came up from a 0.5-% increase for two years and a 1-percent bump in the third to a 1-percent COLA for two years and 2-percent in the third. That’s where it still stands.

During a public meeting held last month, labor economist Gary Storrs from AFSCME’s Washington, DC headquarters laid out Inyo’s budget numbers, making a compelling argument the County has “a lot of fiscal flexibility,” His analysis of the county’s audited financial statement indicated Inyo’s unassigned funds were 40-percent of annual expenditures at the end of fiscal year 2015, far above the recommended 17-% level.

That percent jumped above 40-percent after the 2016 audit which was not available prior to the union’s April 10 meeting.

At a subsequent Supervisors’ meeting, Auditor/Controller Amy Shepherd clarified those numbers during her presentation of the 2016 audited statement. That percentage of unassigned, unrestricted, “rainy day,” whatever you call it, funds hovers around 6-percent of general fund expenditures.

What Shepherd focuses on are monies not allocated for specific programs but allocated to specific departments—those funds end up in the County’s “unassigned” category. In an interview earlier this week, she explained moving money around still creates a hole that has to eventually be filled.

In addition, the County is looking at radical increases in CalPERS, the state’s public employee retirement system, costs. The reason for the increases is a whole other story, but the first payment due in July represents a $1,422,045 increase, ballooning to a $5,640,376 bump in 2021. And those payments go on for the next 20 years in the face of what could be considered fairly static revenues.

Storrs is sticking to his analysis. “In my view, and the view of groups like the Government Finance Officers Association, it is not necessarily only unassigned funds that are contingency funds,” Storrs stated in an e-mail. “The broader universe of unrestricted funds could also be said to be contingency or rainy day funds.”

From union members’ viewpoint, they are the front line for the County, the checkers at Vons, the clerks at Penney’s, the employees who serve the public, not the administrators who set policy. According to Jane McDonald, the Eastern Sierra rep for AFSCME, the difference between the County’s 1-% offer and the ICEA’s 2-percent request is $187,000 a year.

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