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WatchSonoma Watch

Skyrocketing county pensions: How we got here

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s average pension for new retirees has risen dramatically over the past 10 years, outstripping the cost of living by nearly 5 to 1 and driving up taxpayers’ costs.

The trend is fueled by generous pay and benefit policies adopted almost a decade ago by the county Board of Supervisors and by state legislation and court rulings.

Members of the pension system for county government and several special districts who retired in 2002 receive an average annual pension of $22,291. New retirees since then have been receiving sharply more, with those retiring so far in 2011 getting an average pension of $48,814, an increase of nearly 119 percent over eight years.

The figures come from records released last week by the county’s retirement system under a court order handed down as the result of a Press Democrat lawsuit.

Ballooning payouts, which have come during a severe recession and stock market setbacks, have required taxpayers to devote millions more each year to the pension system, contributing heavily to county government’s fiscal woes.

Records from the county’s pension system highlight a key decision behind the increased retirement spending.

In 2002, at the urging of labor and with the endorsement of management, the county Board of Supervisors approved a more generous set of pension benefits for all current workers.

The change, fueled by salary increases and combined with other workforce trends, is now seen as driving the upward spiral in pension costs.

One ex-county official now looks back on the decision as a pivotal moment.

“It’s nearly impossible to do something like that and guarantee it forever,” said Mike Chrystal, who was county administrator at the time.

The deal was designed to pay for itself through a cost-sharing agreement with employees and surplus investment income. In the wake of the 2008 stock market crash, however, taxpayers have been largely responsible for footing the bill, a trend that could continue over the long term unless investments rebound or future benefits are revised.

“Looking back, it makes you wonder,” Chrystal said.

Chrystal served on the retirement board after he stepped down from the administrator’s post in 2004. He was the only top county official involved in the decision who would discuss it.

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas and Democratic Assemblyman Michael Allen of Santa Rosa, both of whom lobbied for the benefits as labor leaders, also gave their perspectives.

Past members of the Board of Supervisors who upgraded the benefits in a series of votes — Tim Smith, Mike Reilly, Paul Kelley and Mike Kerns — did not return phone calls requesting comment.

Current Supervisor Valerie Brown, who has been on the board since late 2002 and voted to approve pension changes, returned a call Saturday night, but could not subsequently be reached for an interview.

Rod Dole, the county’s longtime financial chief who retired in May and now earns the top pension among 3,916 county and special district retirees — $254,625 a year — also did not return calls for comment. Dole also served for years on the retirement board.

The pension deal has become a target for critics of the county’s retirement system, in part because it has been seen to benefit top officials the most.

For example, Chrystal, the county’s third-highest pensioner, gets $209,862 annually, an amount many thousands higher than he would have received under the former benefit level. The same holds true for other top executives and elected officials.

“There was a certain amount of self-interest involved in the decision,” Chrystal said, acknowledging that county leaders had a stake in the outcome. “I can’t remember it being a big issue at the time.”

Taxpayers take notice

That no longer is the case.

Along with the rescue of recession-ravaged banks, few public policy issues have prompted more spirited debate than the rising cost of public pension systems to taxpayers.

Many of the decisions that underlie those costs were made in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when government and labor leaders struck deals that relied on surplus investment income and the expectation of continuing increases in government revenue.

In California, court rulings and legislation expanded the range of pensionable benefits and set off a race among public-sector employers to attract and keep workers by approving higher pay and benefits.

“California set the pace in many ways,” and counties such as Sonoma were not immune, said Stephen Fehr, a researcher with the Pew Center on the States in Washington, D.C. “There’s so many examples up and down the coast of counties and city governments making those promises when times were flush. Those promises are coming due now and the governments are realizing what a mistake they made.”

Services being cut

In Sonoma County and elsewhere, the reckoning has been hastened by a backlash over cuts to public services taking place while more money goes toward retirement spending.

Fiscal watchdogs have been on the front lines of the fight. With the release of county pension records last week, rank-and-file workers are also raising their voices.

Some protests come from private-sector employees who complain their pensions have gone away or been reduced, especially since the 2008 financial collapse. They argue the guaranteed monthly benefit received by county workers is rarely found in private companies.

The outcry also comes from retired public workers looking at the widening gap between their pensions and what newer retirees are receiving.

“I was shocked,” said Gwendolyn Orro, 80, describing her reaction last week to The Press Democrat report that 98 retirees earn six-figure pensions in the county system and some former county workers earn more in retirement than they did while working.

“I didn’t know it was so jacked up like that,” Orro said. The 15-year social worker retired from the county in 1994 and now receives a pension below the current $21,258 average for her year.

Records released by the Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Association clearly show the rising payments to new retirees.

Until 2003, the average payout to new retirees had been fairly level for a decade, moving up and down around $20,000 but changing no more than a few thousand dollars from one year to the next.

But in 2003, when the first of the enhanced benefits kicked in for sheriff’s deputies and other public safety workers, the average for new retirees jumped 57 percent, to $35,106.

Over the next eight years, with all the new benefits in place by 2006, the average payout would jump an additional 40 percent, to $48,814 in 2011, records show.

That pattern is not uncommon for a public pension system that has increased benefits, said Joe Nichols, an actuary based outside Kansas City who works with public and private pension systems nationwide.

Salary hikes also are a likely factor, he said.

The average county salary has increased 60 percent percent over the past 10 years, retirement system records show. By comparison, the Consumer Price Index rose 23 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Perks and other pay that retiring county employees can apply to their final year’s compensation also have an effect, Nichols said.

Other jurisdictions have reined in so-called pension spiking and shifted to a multiyear average for final compensation to avoid that effect, a move Sonoma County has yet to consider.

“That’s a double whammy for them,” Nichols said.

County officials argue that the average is skewed by a record number of retirements in the past two years, including those of higher-paid, longer-tenured employees, more of whom are eligible for pensions equal to or above their pay because of the new benefits.

Neither of those claims could be tested because county pension officials continue to withhold data on years of employment for each retiree, final compensation and other pension information that courts have determined to be public.

Thomas R. Burke, an attorney for The Press Democrat, said he will return to court if necessary to gain access to additional records.

Higher employee share

County employees help fund their pensions with payroll contributions that are higher than rates paid by most other public-sector peers. The current average across the county workforce is about 12 percent of pay. In addition, the county contributes an amount equal to 27 percent of payroll for general employees and 35.7 percent for public safety workers.

County retirees also receive Social Security benefits, and both workers and the county also contribute to the federal system. However, county workers do not receive automatic cost-of-living increases in their county pension.

About a quarter of the employees’ contribution resulted from the 2002 deal, in which employees agreed to forgo some salary increases and contribute at higher rates into their pensions to cover half of the additional benefit cost. The county agreed cover the other half.

“I remember us saying when we negotiated this, ‘We’ll pay our share,’ ” said Freitas, then a sergeant in the Sheriff’s Office and president of the county’s Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

For the county’s public safety workers, the formula was upgraded twice — the second time in 2006 — to allow employees to retire at age 50 and earn 3 percent of their final year’s pay for every year worked. The previous formula was 2 percent of pay per year at age 50.

For non-safety workers, including members of the Board of Supervisors, the enhanced benefit was the same, with retirement age set at 60. The previous formula was 2.6 percent of pay per year of service with retirement at age 62.

Staying competitive

Other counties were making similar decisions, especially on the public safety side. Labor leaders and county officials said the changes were intended to help the county stay competitive. They also reached labor deals in the wake of state decisions that expanded the scope of pensionable benefits.

“After those decisions it was only natural for labor to start bargaining for the new benefits,” said Allen, the state assemblyman, who at the time was executive director of the since-renamed Local 707 of Service Employees International Union, the county’s largest labor group.

The belief at nearly all levels of government was those benefits could be sustained based on the “super-funded” pension systems existing at the time, Allen said.

“No one thought of a catastrophic meltdown,” he said.

But the 2008 stock market crash wiped out $670 million, or a third of the assets in the county’s pension fund, and taxpayers have been forced to come to the rescue.

The results have been staggering for county costs.

Since 2008, annual taxpayer contributions to the pension system have jumped 25 percent, to $48.4 million, part of a now-seven-year increase of 112 percent since 2004, when the new pension benefits kicked in for the majority of employees.

And those contributions don’t cover annual payments on pension debt, which the county doubled last year with the sale of about $290 million in bonds to help shore up the pension system. Those payments are now at $43 million and are set to peak at $57 million in 2023.

With that debt factored in, the rise of pension costs is more than 300 percent for the past decade.

And even the most optimistic assessments have that rise continuing for at least three more years as taxpayers continue to chip away at unfunded pension obligations that now total $249 million.

Concerns mount

At least three current members of the Board of Supervisors — David Rabbitt, Shirlee Zane and Efren Carrillo — have called the county’s escalating costs “alarming” or “unsustainable.”

Supervisor Mike McGuire has stopped short of those labels, but joined the others in calling for pension system overhauls. Valerie Brown, the board veteran, has remained skeptical of that push, worried that outside critics could exert undue pressure to roll back workers’ benefits.

But nearly all the elected officials, including Freitas and Allen, both former labor advocates, acknowledge that rising pension costs threaten to further drain public services.

“What that reform looks like, how that happens, I don’t know,” Freitas said.

Some of the most common fixes, including lower benefit tiers for new workers, have not been enough to save public-sector employers from fiscal ruin.

After its attempts to contain retirement costs fell short, the city of Central Falls, R.I., last month became one of the latest local governments to declare bankruptcy.

Promises to retirees “are really bringing the local governments down,” said Fehr, the Pew Center researcher. “It’s their most urgent political issue. People are consumed by it.”

The result is a vastly different discussion in Sonoma County from years ago, with private citizens, public workers and elected leaders now debating the proper level of retirement security for government workers.

“We elected the people who put this into place,” said Dick Lammerding, 75, a retired commercial airline pilot and Cloverdale grape grower. “I think we’re all a bit responsible for this as far as not being aware of what was happening.”

Those charged with finding a way forward will have to contend with that new level of oversight.

“Could I have predicted this eight years ago? Probably not,” said County Administrator Veronica Ferguson, who came to Sonoma County last year, but oversaw similar issues in her former post in Solano County.

“The world has changed,” she said.

News researchers Janet Balicki and Teresa Meikle contributed to this report. Contact Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

CHANGE IN BENEFIT FORMULAS

Formulas represent the percent of final year’s compensation received for every year worked:
Public safety workers
2006 to present: 3% at age 50
2003 to 2006: 2.6% at 55
1967 to 2003: 2% at 50
General employees (including Board of Supervisors)
2004 to present: 3% at 60
1974 to 2004: 2.6% at 62
1967 to 1974: 2.4% at 65
Source: Sonoma County





37 Responses to “Skyrocketing county pensions: How we got here”

  1. Sweet Deal says:

    What about those Voluntary Separation Incentives of up to $20,000 given to county employees to retire and save jobs of younger employees? Supervisor Carrillo brought hired back Gail Davis to the Agricultural Commissioner’s office in December 2010. She retained her pension of 71,000, kept the $20,000 payout incentive and now collects her full salary. How is this saving tax payers money? What other county employees have received this sweet deal?

  2. County Worker says:

    You can have a trial when no laws were broken. You may not like it, but everything was legal. The bonds mentioned were always pension obligation bonds, they were never infrastructure bonds. Some changes are coming, but don’t get too excited. They will be very measured, not hyped like the doom criers.

  3. Fiscal Conservative says:

    Again my hat is off to Brett Wilkison and the PD for the efforts to bring this scandal to light. This is our largest local news story in decades.

    I agree with comments that this matter needs to be brought to a criminal trial. Let a jury of our peers decide.

    This is not a local government that supports Liberty nor Freedom, but supports tyrany and fraud for the profit of an elitist class group of public employees. Like wallstreet insiders who cheat the system at the expense of others, these thieves should be held accountable for cheating the hardworking taxpayer.

    Selling bonds that were intended for public infastructure, but used to shore up a colapsing ponzi scheme public defined pension retirement program, then lieing about returns is bottom of the barrel white collar crime. Under the current plan, our children and grandchildren will be slaves laboring for this debt. I refuse to accept this path for our future. I refuse to support a generation zero.

    I suggest the ultimate defined benifit for this pack of thieves…A cinderblock cell and selling of assets for restitution. I propose A complete revision of the public retirement program to a defined contribution, not a defined benifit program. Wages that are based on the census mean for the area served, not in comparison to another bankrupt municipality.

    We all know the time is coming soon. Justice and Liberty shall prevail.

  4. GAJ says:

    @Juvenal:

    I guess you never ran a business like I did.

    You state:

    “For the uninitiated, “competitive” means offering an attractive wages and benefits package.”

    You forgot something; here, I’ve edited your statement:

    “For the uninitiated, “competitive” means offering an attractive wages and benefits package…WITHIN THE ORGANIZATION’S ABILITY TO PAY!”

    Sheesh.

  5. Juvenal says:

    @”The Hammer”

    “Staying competitive”, why?”

    The Hammer complains that the Board are uneducated (which they are not), but is unable to grasp that every employer, private or public, must remain “competitive” to recruit and retain quality employees; or that sub-par employees cost money. For the uninitiated, “competitive” means offering an attractive wages and benefits package.

  6. The Hammer says:

    “Staying competitive”, why?

    The Board of Supervisors got us here and it’s their job to get us out, period.

    This is what happens when you elect uneducated people to the position of Supervisor, or any other elected position.

    This is not a game, this is serious business.

  7. Sue Z. Smith says:

    People who apply for jobs at the County should be aware that sometimes people are hired in order to bring $$ into a department, but then they are let go at the 11-mo point (“You didn’t make the 12-mo probation. You improperly sipped coffee…you failed to attend an optional meeting…You’re gone.”) This happened to me. The money from my salary was planned all along for a promotion for a guy who’d been there 27 or 28 years. It’s a “Get rid of the Indians to pad the nests of the Chiefs” kind of strategy. He was promoted and he’ll get a significantly larger pension because of the higher salary in his last 2-3 yrs with the County.

  8. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @GAJ – Sonoma County and Bell have nothing in common. The Sonoma County pension rates are VERY similar to programs in other counties and cities in California, whereas SOME employees in Bell were being given 5 or so times what their counterparts in other cities were getting. In my mind, there are some pension abuses at the top in the County that should be fixed, but it was all done legally – nothing like Bell.

  9. bob m says:

    Why is there such an outcry for pensions
    at this time?

    We never have heard this rhetoric in
    previous years….

    County employees pay 12% of their income
    towards a defined pension.

    County employees have not received any
    pay raises since 2004 while inflation
    has skyrocketed with food and gas prices.

    Why is the Press Democrat so concerned
    over the County pensions???

    Seems to me the Wall St. corporates are
    trying to squeeze everything they can
    from government employeees who earn less
    then their counterparts in salaries…

    The pension system of the County is
    in good shape and has recovered from 2008.

  10. Joe H says:

    If you don’t know about the “American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), then you don’t know squat about the pension problems.

    ALEC is a fraudulent organzation whose main purpose is disinformation. It is funded by the wealthiest people in USA hell-bent on obliterating all unions in the USA.

    Read more here:

    ALEC stands for the American Legislative Executive Council, but what it really stands for is corporate conservatives corrupting democracy. ALEC creates turnkey legislation which is then disseminated to elected officials who are also members via their very secretive organization after it has been approved by corporate members. Only, we really never knew who those corporate members were or who the lawmakers were, either.

    Who are these people?

    •Corporations – Here is a list of corporate members of ALEC. They’re the same names you see on the top of the Dow and NASDAQ lists, with some exceptions, like Koch Industries. Notable members include Altria (formerly RJR Tobacco), Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) – the private prison operator, DuPont, Exxon-Mobil, McDonalds, Intuit, and Coca-Cola. But they are just a few. I doubt there are many names on the list that aren’t recognizable.
    •Corporate Trade Groups – Groups like the American Bail Association, American Bankers Association, PhrMA, National Association of Charter School Organizers, and more.
    •Non-profit organizations – Those oh-so-nonpartisan groups (yes, that’s sarcasm) like The Mackinac Center for Freedom and Democracy (ha!), Goldwater Institute, and Reason Foundation are or have been members. You know, the organizations that write legislation and hand it off to people like Scott Walker to ram through Wisconsin, or who shut down the government like they have in Minnesota (for nearly 2 weeks now).
    Legislators

    And now we come to the footsoldiers who actually carry this stuff back to their states like ants swarming a spot of honey on the countertop. John Nichols reports:

    “Never has the time been so right,” Louisiana State Representative Noble Ellington told conservative legislators gathered in Washington to plan the radical remaking of policies in the states. It was one month after the 2010 midterm elections. Republicans had grabbed 680 legislative seats and secured a power trifecta—control of both legislative chambers and the governorship—in twenty-one states. Ellington was speaking for hundreds of attendees at a “States and Nation Policy Summit,” featuring GOP stars like Texas Governor Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Convened by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—“the nation’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators,” as the spin-savvy group describes itself—the meeting did not intend to draw up an agenda for the upcoming legislative session. That had already been done by ALEC’s elite task forces of lawmakers and corporate representatives. The new legislators were there to grab their weapons: carefully crafted model bills seeking to impose a one-size-fits-all agenda on the states.

    Which is, of course, what I wrote about back in February when I put together a list of what those newly-elected conservative governors were doing in their states.

    This is why, by the way, idiots like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann can actually run for office and get serious support. They’re just the marionettes behind the real policymakers, just like Governor Bighair in Texas and Governor Gollum in Florida.

  11. Dogs Rule says:

    I’m just wondering who is going to pay the gigantic forever bill for all the pensions for people who aren’t working anymore since we can’t afford to pay for the folks who are left working, nor can we (apparently) fix a single road. Now riddle me that Batman.

  12. Juvenal says:

    @Jim

    “So Mike Allen voted to bankrupt the county via these pension increases. Now he wants illegals to have free reign of our roads. How many billions of dollars can one man singlehandedly cost the taxpayers in CA?”

    Are you ignorant of civics or have you graced us with your opinion without taking the time to read the article?

    Michael Allen is not and has never been a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Conversely, the California State Assembly, the body to which Michael Allen was elected, has never negotiated labor agreements with employees of Sonoma or any other county.

  13. Non Violent says:

    Bill :

    Regarding your pot comment.

    I just heard about a guy right here in Sonoma County who was caught with a pound of pot.

    The District Attorney wants to put him in prison. For pot. Thats smart thinking, isn’t it?

    Pot smoking = job guarantees for judges, cops, jailers, attorney’s, government clerks, and probation officers.

  14. GAJ says:

    There should be calls for an investigation just like in Bell California where those entrusted with the City Budget lavished it on themselves.

    What the members of the Board of Supervisors did in 2002, with the full approval of Rod Dole, reeks of corruption.

    Anyone who defends the upper echelons of our County larding themselves with benefits such as making more money in retirement than on the job is complicit in this fraud.

    Just like in Bell, the victims are the taxpayer, (especially the poor, the young and the old), and lower levels of County employees.

    Power corrupts, absolute power, (like that apparently in the hands of the Supervisors, our “watchdogs”), corrupts absolutely.

    Time for one of the newer members of the Board to stand up and demand an investigation and repeal of the increases approved in 2002…but don’t hold your breath.

    And as to those “blaming” the messenger, the Press Democrat, get your head out of your nether regions. They are doing EXACTLY what they should do when government breaks down and start putting the priority of the County Administration ahead of the long term good of the County.

    Thank you Press Democrat; keep up the good work.

  15. Kris Hunt says:

    The bottom line is can the county afford these pensions and still provide services? The answer is apparently no. That is where the discussion should begin. Not who got what or who gets what. It is a math problem that must be solved.

  16. Lets be Reasonable says:

    I thought most of this article to be interesting and informative, but this statement is VERY misleading:
    .
    “The average county salary has increased 60 percent percent over the past 10 years, retirement system records show. By comparison, the Consumer Price Index rose 23 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
    .
    The “average country salary” has NOT increased 60% (It actually been close to the CPI) – what actually increased was the salary of those retiring in the last year. The County has had a deal in place to get employees to retire early, and this has resulted in a number of extra retirements – “including those of higher-paid, longer-tenured employees” – which throws off the average.

  17. James M says:

    We must change retirement for public workeres from defined benefits to defined contributions. That way we know what the liability is, and its paid while the employee works. There is no good reason public employees are getting these gold-plated benefit packages on the taxpayer dime, time to return to the real world.

    Also, call/write your state representative and tell them to vote against the bill to stop cities from cancelling these contracts in bankruptcy. There is no limit to what these greedy public servants will do to protsct thier benefits.

  18. bill says:

    Love it!!! We all agree we have been screwed by our elected officials and the pensions are their self serving device to add more pain and suffering.

    Get rid of them all!! Stop the pensions altogether!!!

    Restore sanity to our local government. Elect all new people and call a special election soon!!

  19. bill says:

    the truth is Cogbill and Dole screwed us…..that simple for their own personal gains with the help of the existing board of supervisors back then….

    while we waste money locking up pot smokers and drunks, these real criminals steal untold amounts of our money legally…

    time to get rid of the blood suckers….

  20. truth in news says:

    Maybe if the PD would focus on the money being spent on services provided to people more interested in their medical amrijuana than getting a job we could see the TRUE draining of our tax dollars. But no, they would rather point fingers at the people earning and paying their way rather than show the ones who are happy to eat for free. They had day without a mexican…we need day without a public employee.

  21. Jim says:

    A couple follow-up comments based on what others have said…

    “Jealousy”…true or not, it doesn’t change the fact that this is completely unsustainable. This whole country has turned into a handout society. Government checks are given to everyone and it has increased significantly since the Democrats have taken office. And don’t think I’m pro-Republican, because Bush was the biggest handout fiend until Obama came in. They all buy votes with taxpayer money. It just isn’t sustainable.

    Regarding the comment about the balanced budget under Clinton…there was something nutty going on then that generated massive tax revenues. The dot-com boom generated massive wealth, which was spent lavishly by those who earned it. This had nothing to do with the politicians. It was the same as the recent real estate boom/bust. Though the real estate boom was significantly assisted by Fannie and Freddy’s CRA (give a loan to everyone) regulation.

    Bad economy since 2000? Not sure what country that person is referring to. There was full employment for most of the last decade, until 2009.

    The graph is pretty telling. The exponential growth of these payouts is alarming. Again, it isn’t sustainable. There should also be a graph of tax revenues and unfunded pension liability. Those would show exactly how ridiculous this has become.

    Lastly, if a private company wants to pay its employees a certain way, who cares? It is a private company. You don’t have to shop there, use their services, etc if you don’t like their policies. When a government wastes money on excessive salaries and absurd pensions, we can’t opt out of paying our taxes. BIG DIFFERENCE. All we can do is use all legal methods for lowering our tax exposure.

  22. Concerned says:

    Hey, SoCo, did you know that many of the people the County laid off are back working at the County? Did you know that SoCo has re-hired “Retired” employees as temporary help, some of whom were paid a $20k payout, thus now double-dipping the taxpayer? Did you know that employees pay an “Enhanced retirement upgrade fee” at 3% to help pay for these outragous pensions? Do you have any idea how much waste is going on?

    Look, there’s enough blame to go around to both Union and Non-Union public workers. Until we the people stand up and say “ENOUGH” and vote these people out and make them accountable for what they have done this is going to continue. The PD can continue to write the articles, people can continue to write the nasty letters saying “how dare they”, but until we make an example of this waste and corruption it will continue. Next week people will have forgotten about this and be thinking about the next greatest diversity and green initiative, at their expense, of course. People of SoCo better wake up.

  23. Ray M. says:

    Thank you Press Democrat for exposing the pension scam. Almost everyone here gripes about the county worker pensions yet re-elects the same politicians. So, thank yourselves for the county worker wages. All of you had the oppurtunity to be a city or county worker. But you wanted a better job in the private sector. And those that advocate bankruptcy, it does nothing to change the retirement package. Vallejo still offers 3% at 50 years. The Press Democrat is using this as a wedge issue to divide the classes. Just what the Masters want at the New York Times and White House.

  24. Bill me says:

    The real story will be how voters react. If you want change, know who backs the candidate and decide to vote for change, or business as usual. The largest contributors in politics do so for a reason-so their members will benefit. Are you benefitting? If not-check the right box on the ballot. it is easy to see who the largest contributors are-just Google it. CTA and SEIU are right up there. Hmmm-wonder if that is why there is no widespread outrage from our elected officials over this mess? We should be demanding reform-ASAP!

  25. bear says:

    Yes, private sector employees have SO earned their annual bonuses and their higher salaries. We all know what kind of ripoffs and crap service we get from the private sector.

    Let’s try and keep the focus on the failed economic policies of republicans over the last 30 years. How’s your 401K doing?

    Is this the fault of public employees? Oh, and let’s eliminate public employee unions, which will fix all your problems? After all, they are the cause of the bad economy since 2000?

    If my family doesn’t get promised benefits, then we’ll be homeless. If you really want “class warfare” you’re about to get it – it will start right on YOUR street, in front of YOUR house. That’s where my RV will be parked.

    Ten years ago we had a balanced federal budget and a healthy economy. And now republicans use the BS policies they enacted to destroy all of us?

    Do you think that Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann have the wits or the inclination to help you? Guess again.

    Wake the hell up!

  26. I want the truth says:

    Can we get a real NEWspaper in this town?

  27. Amy Thompson says:

    Why do local government agencies in Sonoma County even offer pension plans? Most of the private sector companies did away with them years ago. What is so special about public employees?

    Everyone complains about the service level provided by local government. Why would the service get get any worse if no pensions were provided and paid for by the taxpayers?

  28. GAJ says:

    Freeze salaries above $100k now and immediately change, for a start, the Board of Supervisors’ Pension Plan to one similar to a 401k where the maximum employer/taxpayer contribution is 5%.

    They need to set the example first before similar actions are taken for all County employees.

    Enough is enough.

    Current benefit rates are in endangering those that retired prior to 2002 with reasonable pensions, which is a travesty…they will suffer most when the seemingly unstoppable greed of this new generation brings a once sustainable system down.

    “Members of the pension system for county government and several special districts who retired in 2002 received an average annual pension of $22,291. New retirees since then have been receiving sharply more, with those retiring so far in 2011 getting an average pension of $48,814, an increase of nearly 119 percent over eight years.”

  29. CityEmployee says:

    “The average county salary has increased 60 percent percent over the past 10 years, retirement system records show.” What is the highest salary — and how many get that, and what is the lowest salary — and how many get that? I work for the City of Santa Rosa, and my salary has not kept up with CPI increases. That is true for the majority of City workers, except police and fire.

  30. Tom Drumm says:

    I am surprised at the statement that the average county employee’s wages has increased by 60% over a decade.

    Most Union represented County employees received increases of 3 to 3.5% for seven years of the decade, and have not received any increases in the last three years. One of these increases was redirected toward paying for retirement improvements, as Mr. Wilkison begrudgingly mentions.

    In addition, employees’ contribution toward health care has increased dramatically over the same decade.

  31. Money Grubber says:

    “The average county salary has increased 60 percent percent over the past 10 years, retirement system records show. By comparison, the Consumer Price Index rose 23 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

    —————-
    ENOUGH SAID.

  32. Canthisbe says:

    Not expert, but I believe the only way to reduce pensions retrospectively is to file bankruptcy. The current system will eventually bankrupt the County anyway, so the bankruptcy option should be given serious consideration – by someone other than the people who are or will get pensions under the current system. If a county can’t file bankruptcy, then the federal or state law preventing that needs to be changed.

  33. Money Grubber says:

    Two words come to mind with regard to the unsustainable public pension scandals we see developing.

    First, ARROGANCE, as those public pension administrators intentionally fought to prevent public scrutiny. It took court orders to force them to open their books.

    Second, GREED, as those people in local and state government who structured the public pensions designed their pensions to give them more in a retirement pension than most private sector workers even earn on their full time jobs.

    Again, I thank the Press Democrat for its court fight to expose the pension scam.

    Pensions were originally designed to allow people a supplement to their SAVINGS. These public pensions are nothing but a full time pay check for life. The public employee doesn’t even need to save on his/her own any more.

  34. Jim says:

    “Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas and Democratic Assemblyman Michael Allen of Santa Rosa, both of whom lobbied for the benefits as labor leaders, also gave their perspectives”

    So Mike Allen voted to bankrupt the county via these pension increases. Now he wants illegals to have free reign of our roads. How many billions of dollars can one man singlehandedly cost the taxpayers in CA?

    Is it shocking to anyone that Mr. Dole, the biggest leech of them all, was part of the retirement board? It is amazing that those benefiting from the pension system were allowed to determine what they got.

    It is unbelievable that this is allowed. There is no outrage. There are no protests about the “unfairness” like there is when unions are asked to give up some of their enormous benefits. There is massive outrage when they are asked to not get a raise. There is outrage when a CEO, one person, gets a big payout from a private company, but NO OUTRAGE when the taxpayer is paying Mr. Dole, most likely his predecessor, and the current employee a total probably amounting to $500,000+/year to work a county job.

    This is so ridiculous. But hey, the unions control this state. The unions control the White House. The media spins it onto Wall Street. And the Sheeple keep re-electing the thieves.

    Here is more of my money Mr. Government. Please use it to pay yourself and your union cronies massive salaries while talking about how the “rich” don’t pay their fair share. I guess the “rich” don’t include those on the taxpayer dime making $200,000 for NOT WORKING, only those in the private sector EARNING their money.

  35. Beef King says:

    Great work by the PD to give us the truth.
    The real problem is the north bay voter.
    The people that are put in power have failed, period.
    They were largely elected to office, with some appointees.
    Therefore, the blame rest with voters.
    Every eligible voter in the region needs to make the effort to really know who they are giving power.
    And yes, how do we get out of this mess?
    First, stop spending.
    Second, make operations more efficient.
    Third, pass and enforce rules using automatic triggers based on conservative economic principles.

  36. Reality Check says:

    As good as the “How we got here” article is, it’s time for an article entitled “How do we get out of the fix we’re in.”