WatchSonoma Watch

West county supervisor race zeroes in on pension costs



The two challengers trying to unseat Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo both say the current Board of Supervisors has been too slow in dealing

Efren Carrillo (PD FILE, 2012)

with the current pension crisis.

Former Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, who is vying for his old 5th District seat, said the board already should have kick-started its pension overhaul efforts with non-union county managers, and that all county employees, including public safety workers, should make pension concessions.

“The point is they have to get started,” Carpenter said. “Where they start might be a question of strategy.”

Veronica Jacobi, a former Santa Rosa city councilwoman, said scaling back pension benefits for new county employees alone would not likely solve the mounting pension crisis. Current employees, she said, are going to have to give up something.

But pension change should begin with county managers and supervisors themselves, she said.

“How does one ask for concessions without giving,” she said. “When one is making more than $100,000 and expecting someone that’s making $40,000 or less to make concessions — I think that’s immoral.”

Carrillo defended the board’s efforts to control rising pension costs.

“It’s easy in the context of a campaign to make a lot of grandiose claims of what they will do and how fast they will do it,” he said.

He said the board has been “aggressively demanding answers from county staff about what the law will allow us to do,” and he believes the county leadership should and will set an example through their own concessions.

Carrillo would not give specific targets for such measures as benefit caps, saying he did not want to negatively affect current negotiations.

The changes the county is pursuing in labor negotiations and revisions to state law include capping pension amounts and scaling back pension spiking, reducing pension formulas and raising the retirement age for future employees.

The county also is seeking seeks to cut salaries for the entire workforce by 3 percent, as well as add four more Board of Supervisors appointees to the pension system board to increase public oversight of the system.

Supervisors are part of the pension system, and if Carrillo is elected to a second four-term, he would be vested and eligibile for retirement benefits after five full years of service.

Carpenter, who served 16 years as supervisor before retiring in 1997, receives an annual county retirement of about $18,000. If elected, he has two basic choices. He could continue to collect his retirement pay along with his new salary of $134,000. Or he could suspend his current pension and begin accruing service credit towards a second pension based on the pay and benefit provisions in his new term of office.

Jacobi’s proposals include eliminating pension spiking; capping benefits at possibly $100,000 or $90,000, which she says is sufficient in most cases; negotiating or, if necessary, imposing a two-tier pension system that gives employees reduced benefits compared to current employees.

The caps and lower tier benefits would “certainly” affect all new employees, she said. But, recognizing that the impact of such measures would not bear fruit until a later time, Jacobi said that “for existing employees we need to do something.”

She suggested giving current employees “some warning” so they can make the necessary career change. She said she would be open to look at a 401(k)-style alternative to the current benefits plan.

Jacobi proposed pension caps or reductions for anyone whose payout is above poverty level. Those closer to the poverty level would see a lower reduction to their benefits.

The county is in negotiations with Service Employees International Union Local 1021. Negotiations began April 11 and SEIU contract ends Aug. 31.

The county retirement system, which has an investment portfolio of $1.8 billion, has a long-term shortfall of $353 million. Pension bond debt as of July 1 is $495 million in principal, plus $279 million in interest.

Investment losses coupled with higher pensions promised to the current work force are key factors behind the current shortfall.

Carpenter advocates changing the pension formula that allows general workers to retire at age 60 with 3 percent of their highest year’s pay for every year worked. Carpenter said any changes should also apply to safety workers, who can retire at age 50 with a 3 percent of their highest year’s pay for every year worked.

“I think you have to start with all the unions,” he said. “I don’t know how you could do it with just one.”

Carpenter’s other proposals include capping retirement income. He offered an “arbitrary” cap of $125,000; eliminating pension spiking; changing pension calculations to an averaging system; reducing benefits for county management to a level comparable to other counties of similar size.

He acknowledged upper-level retirement income caps affect only a small number of the 3,992 pensioners, saying that caps are among “several things to be done.”

He also proposed implementing a two-tier system that may require employees to pay more for their retirement package, as well as lowering the investment risk of Retirement Board investments.

Carpenter was cool to the idea of swapping the county’s defined benefit plan for a 401(k)-type plans, which are preferred by private-sector employers. Such plans offer less security.

He said he is not ready to abandon the current pension system.

20 Responses to “West county supervisor race zeroes in on pension costs”

  1. Still Waters says:

    Hasn’t anyone seen the article in the Kenwood Press? Once again, the 1% are running the show and asking for someone supporting a familiy on $30k/year to tighten their belts AGAIN!!They have never seen a reduction in their pay or benefits that causes them to decide between a rent payment or food.

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  2. steve humphrey says:

    Kudos to Jim for summing this up so eloquently.
    Those of you on this board who appear to have some intelligence as well as a sincere passion for American’s future, but disagree with the events leading up to our current collapse, would do yourselves a favor by reading the overwheming and indisputable evidence. The history can be spun, but it can’t be rewritten.

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  3. Follower says:

    Jim, I agree with much of what you say but…

    NOBODY “DESERVES”ANYTHING beyond a decent childhood. After that the ONLY thing anyone “deserves” is the right to “Life, LIBERTY and the PURSUIT of Happiness”
    In America anyway…

    If you have talent and skills you “deserve” what the market will pay. If that means minimum wage or a golden parachute, then THAT is what you “deserve”.

    We ALL have the opportunity in America to educate ourselves and develop talents & skills that “deserve” more. A black child from a broken home is our President so don’t even THINK of arguing that point!

    People support Big Government because they lack the self esteem to believe in themselves (rightfully so in many cases) and fall victim to the Class Warfare that tells them every time the President opens his mouth… that it’s not “fair” that their neighbor drives a nicer car than they do, lives in a nicer house than they do and has more toys than they do.

    “Fair”. That’s the new campaign mantra.

    There’s nothing “fair” about people investing their nest egg in GM only to have it snatched away from them to make sure the Union’s Pensions are funded.

    The “I DESERVE” mentality is killing the Golden Goose and we are becoming the nation our founding fathers fought to escape.

    Maybe that’s what we “deserve”!

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  4. Patricia says:

    The problem with all the rhetoric about pension reform is that all public employees, from those making $40k a year and providing direct services to the public, to those making $140k a year with nebulous job titles and duties who never provide direct public service, are all lumped together in one big pot labeled greedy pigs. This is guilt by association.

    The County’s “administrators” and “analysts” command large salaries and enhanced benefit packages (including enhanced pensions) that the rank and file don’t receive – and yet the rank and file are targeted along side them as the problem.

    Rank and file are not the problem. We’re the ones behind the counter helping you fill out your forms. We’re the ones answering the phone at 2am when a child or an elder is being abused and we’re not earning exorbitant salaries and getting car and cell phone allowances to provide those services. We probably earn less money than a lot of the people posting here.

    If half of the six-figure-earning managers walked out on their jobs, public services would still be provided and the public would hardly notice. If you look at the County’s budget closely, you’ll see where the money is going and it’s not into my pocket.

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  5. Jim says:

    Someone who works for a company or the government deserves a fair salary while they provide a service/skill to it. Once the work ends, the pay should end. Paying someone for work no longer provided bankrupts companies and the government. Pensions make running the business/government significantly more expensive as multiple payroll expense payments are made for the same position. Example…chief of police in San Francisco is being paid. Former chief of police is being paid (still) 40% more than she ever made while working for the department. So the chief position in the SFPD costs 140% more than it should (more if there is someone else still being paid).

    Look at the auto industry, the airlines and every single city, county and state. The problem is that a company goes broke when they over promise benefits. When the government over promises, they just keep taking from the taxpayer. The excess taxes destroys the economy. Look at the joke CA has become. The highest taxes in the nation, the highest unfunded pension in the country, the worst business environment in the country and the highest emigration of businesses to other states. Businesses leave, jobs leave, unemployment rises, less tax revenue…they just keep raising tax to cover the hole they created by pushing businesses and earners out of the state.

    Why would a bank want to give “predatory loans” that they knew wouldn’t be paid back only to end up with a property worth 40% of what they lent on it?

    The “predatory lending” as it was called on this board was 100% based on the government’s forcing of CRA on lenders. CRA (community reinvestment act) forced lenders to lend to the same diversity breakdown as the areas they were lending in. Thus, “diverse” borrowers who couldn’t pay the loans back were granted loans because the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT (Fannie and Freddie) told them they’d back them. It was ALL driven by the federal government, with the chairman of the banking committee (Barney Frank) in the thick of things. Why do you think he “retired”? To avoid a joke ‘investigation’.

    As for “wall street”…that is a strip of asphalt. The “collapse” of the stock market was started when the regulations were relaxed under the Clinton Administration and the worthless loans were then able to be packaged into CMOs, CDOs, etc and basically everyone was allowed to invest in them.

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  6. Bob M says:

    People never mention mortality rates
    and Pensions…

    Some individuals unfortunately pass on
    and leave sparse benefits for others
    after they worked a lifetime….

    Anyone who went out and worked years
    deserves a pension, no matter private
    or public..

    What happened to the Amercian work Ethic??

    Everyone gets a free pass and free
    benefits, why work.. Just complain about
    the people who support and pay taxes
    in our Community.

    Makes little or no sense to me…..

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  7. Skippy says:

    “If you have never served your Country
    then you don’t know what any sacrifices
    truly are…..”
    A dubious statement at best, but we do appreciate your service to this great nation.
    What is not appreciated is your becoming a shill and echo for the forces of collectivism seeking to fundamentally transform America.
    Listening to pathetic wan OWS adolescents tearfully deride the system that allows them to whine without consequence has warped your sense of reality.
    I’ll explain slowly:
    Big Govt strongarmed banks into making loans that were guaranteed to default.
    Big Govt created the mechanisms banks used to ditch those toxic loans ASAP.
    Big Govt asured us that all was well and not to worry.
    Big Govt meddling caused the Obama Depression as surely as the sun and moon caused the recent eclipse.
    Don’t blame the bride if the buffet stinks; she didn’t cook it up. Look to the caterer for ultimate culpability.

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  8. Bob M says:

    The banks were Bank of America, Wells
    Fargo who gave out Predatory Loans…

    To people who they knew could not afford
    High Mortgages.. They raised the rates
    then took the homes…

    I served my Country for 20 years and I
    have a pension, I worked for it and
    I have never taken SSI or any welfare…

    If you have never served your Country
    then you don’t know what any sacrifices
    truly are…..

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  9. Bob M says:

    Wall Street and the Stock Market
    collapsed in 2008… Wall street is
    located in New York last time I looked…

    George W. Bush let 2 wars run aground
    and failed to address the Budget of
    spending billions a week on two wars
    that have costs everyone $4.00 plus for
    a loaf of bread and gas…

    To blame the Unions and public employees
    is just scapegoating the average worker
    in the U.S.

    Baltimore and D.C. are filled with
    Government workers but I don’t see
    the same attacks in the Baltimore Sun
    or Washington Post…..

    Marin county changed their pension system and this has been a very small
    pct of budget… This whole thing is
    one big lie……And that’s the Truth…..

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  10. steve humphrey says:

    @ bill

    You are right about the ballot being the only possibility of reform. It will be interesting to see what the outcome of the recall election in Wisconsin reveals. A state that has banned collective bargaining with pretty impressive results. Now the union organizers want to recall the Governor and Lt. Governor, and replace them with a more sympathetic crew.
    Everyone should be given the opportunity to earn a fair income… but that doesn’t mean in complying with “fair” that reductions shouldn’t have to be accepted as well.
    At any rate, the day of reckoning is rapidly approaching. We can all sit down and hammer out an agreement that makes sense, or we can continue to do nothing but place blame on one another, conjure up excuses, and watch a complete meltdown.

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  11. Jim says:

    @ Bob M…

    Who is “wall street”? Who are “the Banks”?

    Do some research on the collapse and you’ll see who had a hand in it.

    And how did “wall street” and “the Banks” take your house? When people buy a house they sign a pile of paperwork with language mandated by the government that explains ALL terms in “conspicuous” font (read the multitude of regulations passed by the government that lenders are forced to follow). When people, who were aware of the terms of their loans, failed to fulfill their duties under the loan contract, the lender forecloses. Just as a lender will repossess your vehicle if you fail to make the payments. I don’t understand the constant attacking of the phantom referred to as “wall street” and the intentionally vague political term “the Banks”.

    As for the blame on “public employees”, it isn’t the employee, it is the politician who won’t stand up to the unions (because they are bribed). It is the public employee pensions that have bankrupted every city and county in CA, and the state itself.

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  12. Bob M says:

    The real blame is Wall St and the Banks,
    who took everyones’ 401K retirement
    and house….

    To blame the Public employees is directed
    in the wrong place.

    Only Higher Management receive Pension
    spiking and perks that amount to anything

    Some of the County workers are receiving
    aid from the State and County they work
    for…. That pretty much says it all…..

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  13. El Comandante says:

    If this is a union problem, how come all of the pictures accompanying alarmist pension articles are of management…particularly of law enforcement management?

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 4

  14. Tim says:

    Amazing how voters continue to vote for the people and put them back into office knowing they’re only going to continue with their bad choices. I would say voters have become in-sane over the past 20 years, they show all the classic symptoms and yet they still put these people in office.

    It’s about time for mom and pop to take office and serve a term and let another take office. We don’t need to continue to put people in office who have one goal and only one goal, suck the taxpayers dry and produce nothing positive for all Americans

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  15. If you want to help pension reform, better vote for anyone but Michael Allen. As the executive director of SEIU, the county’s largest labor group he was responsible for getting the contracts that are sinking Sonoma and Marin counties. In the PD’s Sept. 25 2011 “How soaring Sonoma County pension costs began” Allen said, “No one thought of a catastrophic meltdown.”

    He’s getting upwards of eight hundreds of thousands of dollars from out-of-the-area unions and they are his biggest contributors.

    Michael created the problem, he’s getting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the unions that are benefiting the most from no pension reform, he getting a pension from SEIU, plus extra personal income from other unions and now he is in charge of fixing the problem in Sacramento. Mediocre Michael, the professional politician.

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  16. County Worker says:

    Ok Marc,
    Open your checkbook and write a check for your choice. You are limited to $2500. How much loyalty to the unions or against the unions do you think $2500 will buy you? Good luck.

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  17. Marc says:

    These are the same people who caused the problem!

    We will have to elect new supervisors with a platform for pension reform WITH no ties to the unions before any real changes occur.

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  18. County Worker says:

    Here’s a deal I would go for. LET ME OUT. Give me my money and interest back and I will invest it myself. SORRY, it isn’t legal for them to let me out. Of course, since I am evil incarnate for doing my job, you know, working, you probably want all my money and interest dumped into welfare, just to make the destruction complete, dramatic.

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  19. bill says:

    The fox is in the hen house. Pension reform must be dramatic and it will only come as a ballot issue. Our elected officials have made pensions pork barrel at our expense and the possible bankruptcy of the County. Their compensation must resemble our Social Security in size of payout at retirement. Not more.

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  20. Jim says:

    Blah, blah, blah. Typical lying politicians. When all candidates are from the same union-bribed party, and nothing has been done in the last two decades besides INCREASE the impending disaster, only a fool would actually believe that anyone will do anything related to pensions.

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