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GUEST OPINION: Not all county retirees enjoying big pensions

By EARL GWYNNE

Public employee pensions are a popular topic of discussion. Public perception seems to be that all Sonoma County retirees enjoy six-figure pensions. This is partly due to recent coverage in The Press Democrat of the large pensions of some retired elected officials and other county managers. Service Employees International Union believes that not enough distinction has been made between the pensions of managers, and those of the service-providing workforce, which includes our members. Not all public pensions are created equal.

Earl Gwynne.

Earl Gwynne.

Very few SEIU members have salaries high enough to qualify for the six-figure pensions cited in most of the recent coverage. Our members also do not receive most of the pensionable benefits that allow some individuals to have pensions much higher than their salaries.

The average pension for all SEIU retirees who retired between 2008 and the present is less than $40,000 annually and many receive less than $20,000. Our research shows that the average pension of SEIU retirees with at least 20 years of service and who retired since 2008 is $51,095 annually. This is significantly lower than the $68,000 average annual pension for all 20-year career retirees cited in recent articles. SEIU members, as with all county employees, contribute nearly 12 percent of their salaries toward their pensions.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and county administrator could take a large step to reduce salary and pension costs by seriously addressing the ratio of line-staff employees per manager. The ratio at the county is currently fewer than six employees per manager and has been steadily declining since the 2000-01 fiscal year, when the ratio was 7.3 employees per manager.

Between fiscal year 2007-08 and 2011-12, the number of non-management employees declined by more than 16 percent, while management declined by just over 8 percent. If management positions had declined at the same rate as employee positions, there would be 46 fewer managers. The potential salary savings is nearly $7 million annually, based on an average total compensation (wages, benefits and costs) of more than $151,000 for currently allocated management positions.

Greater savings could be realized by increasing the ratio of employees to managers. Based on staffing levels of 2011-12, an increase from the current ratio of 5.8 employees to 7.3 employees per manager (the ratio from 2000-01), represents a decrease of 105 managers, with potential annual savings of nearly $16 million.

Since managers have higher salaries and more and larger pensionable benefits (including car allowances and county-paid deferred compensation) than non-management employees, these proposed reductions in management positions would also lead to significant savings in future county pension costs.

The discussion of staff-to-management ratio is not unique to Sonoma County. Oregon recently enacted legislation that requires state agencies with at least 100 employees to have employee-to-manager ratios of 11 to 1. Texas has had a similar law since 1997. In both cases, the ratios before enactment were 6-to-1, which is very close to Sonoma County’s current ratio of 5.8-to-1. Agencies in both states can apply for lower ratios based on industry standards.

The laws passed by these states seem to indicate that a ratio of 6-to-1 is perceived within some government agencies as inefficient and unsustainable and that real cost savings can be realized by restructuring and reducing management levels. SEIU believes that the county would be fiscally stronger and able to provide more robust programs and services if it invested more wisely the funds it already has.

(Earl Gwynne, a staff member with Service Employees International Union Local 1021, is a Sonoma County retiree who formerly owned Revelation Natural Foods Restaurant in Santa Rosa for 16 years. He lives in Healdsburg.)

 





49 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: Not all county retirees enjoying big pensions”

  1. jenny says:

    the cuts up till now have all been from the bottom.
    cutting our tiny salaries, while we are qualifying for Medi-Cal to cover our health insurance needs, is not going to net enough.
    How about this time we cut from the top?
    the yearly car bonuses of $6,000-$8,000, the deferred compensation that the county contributes
    all the fatties, getting the fat paycheck, the huge pensions, the perks and bonuses, none of us front line staff get, (all because they are classified as “Managers” even though they don’t supervise anyone, or manage one or two employees)who somehow keep managing to avoid getting cut, are sitting quietly hoping no one turns to look their way, loving the fact that the public view generalizes and assumes we are all in the same boat
    we aren’t
    this isn’t about whiny employees wanting more money, and unions strongarming the tax payers
    this is about the little guy, standing up for themselves
    calling out the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes
    the little guy has been cut, and laid off, and lost their health insurance, and had to go on gov’t Medi-Cal, and has to take their kids to free clinics, and working with less staff, in less hours, with less pay, and sat silently watching all their coworkers in a constant state of stress and worry and fear, while the higher ups, somehow skated through untouched, and now they are being threatened with more pay cuts and even higher insurance rates, and finally speaking up. (using fake names on the internet for fear of retribution)
    and saying ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
    cut the fat, not the meat

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Cotati Station Neighbor says:

    County will discuss intentions to rollback spiking opportunities on Tuesday
    Item 26 on Regular Calendar!

    http://sonoma-county.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=20

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Fiscal Conservative says:

    The answer to Juvenal is pretty simple. I am not, nor is the private sector, asking the
    taxpayer to pay for our losses.

    With the ‘defined benefit pension system’ the amount to be paid to the County
    government employee is set in stone, defined, X amount upon retirement. It does not
    matter how the pension fund performs, the employee upon retirement receives X amount.

    When the fund becomes insolvent the taxpayer again has to pay that X amount over and
    over again. In Sonoma County’s situation, add bond interest into the equation. Almost $2
    Billion.

    When you understand that County employees are forcing hardworking taxpayers to pay
    the pension over and over again, then the inequity can be seen. This was not voted on, it’s
    a mandatory new debt and tax. This has been a topic of the Sonoma County Grand Jury
    and the story is available in the PD pension archive in the links on top of this page.

    Will $2 Billion and counting be enough to bankrupt Sonoma County?
    Damn good question. My assumption is that it will sooner or later. No growth policies,
    special agenda’s and political failures to act may speed up the process.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 6

  4. Juvenal says:

    Hey Fiscal Conservative:

    I read your link. It is an article from the PD stating that the the actuary for the County retirement system, SCERA, recommends that the County increase it’s contribution toward retirement.

    The reason for this recommendation is that the the fund still suffers from 2008 losses, just like the rest of us with IRA’s.

    Fiscal, did you sell off your investments in 2008, putting remaining funds in a sock under your mattress?

    No? Why not? The same logic you employee to predict the demise of SCERA serves to predict the demise of the S and P 500 as well.

    Or is that you recognize the principle of return to the mean when it comes to your own investments, but not when you are attacking your political enemies in this space?

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7

  5. Fiscal Conservative says:

    The sense of entitlement that comes from slurping at the taxpayer trough must have the
    same addictive effects as smoking crack? When the addict is faced with the truth, the
    response is lies and denial.
    I think it’s time for a taxpayer intervention and a trip to shady acres to dry out.

    The taxpayers did not oversee the pension fund, the County, the Unions and the
    Employees were responsible. The fund is bankrupt. Headed towards two billion dollars,
    that’s with a B…Billion, not the State, Sonoma County Pension fund.
    Bonds that are intended for major infrastructure projects were sold to finance pension
    debt. Now the taxpayer is paying interest. What’s worse, the interest on municipal bonds
    will rise as it is clear that there is greater risk on those bonds than originally anticipated.

    I gave a clear link in my previous post, but it was ignored by those with the strong denial
    of the entitlement addiction. I could care less about the SEIU chief negotiator. It was my
    assumption he was in Washington lecturing small business owners that they did not build
    their businesses, the government did that for them.

    I have no doubt that the County needs 2-4 times as many people to do the work of 1
    private sector employee. I do however hope that the Sonoma County negotiators have the
    irons in the fire and realize that business has chosen to leave Sonoma County rather than
    pay taxes that are effecting the razor thin bottom line. Sonoma County is in economic
    decline. This debt is clearly a key issue as to what investment and the risk of the
    investment will be made by private industry in the County.

    To continue down this path of the defined benefit pension plan, outrageous pension debt
    and overpayment of public employees is like the captain of the Titanic backing up and
    ramming the iceberg for a second time.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 10

  6. Accountable says:

    (repost from wrong thread)-
    Fiscal Conservative got their information from the weblink article. Brett’s information comes directly from the independent actuarial study done by The Segal Company http://www.scretire.com/pdf/documents/ActuarialValuation2011.pdf. Read it for yourself. Under the section Significant Issues in This Valuation page 6, the Actuaries are still using the outdated investment return of 7.75% in their study, and even then they indicate that “if the deferred losses were recognized immediately in the valuation value of assets, the funded percentage would decrease from 84.1% to 77.0%”. Under 80% funding is a red flag. The urban myth that “experts say 80% funding is healthy” was clearly debunked by pension finance expert, Girard Miller.
    No independent economist or investment adviser expects a 7.75% return in the next 15 years. CalPERS only made 6.97% return in the last 15 years http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-09-28/calpers-chief-says-7-75-investment-return-may-be-tough-to-meet.html. Financial experts and economists continue to tell CalPERS and other pension fund entities that their future market expectations are unrealistic. I personally believe that these entities simply are perpetrating fraud.
    Over the 12 month time period, employee’s contributions have remained stagnet at 12.1% while the County (taxpayer) contributions increased from 17.1% of payroll to 19.93% of payroll. Those costs to taxpayers are expected to jump by a third next year and go up by millions more each year through 2017. And for the record, County employees (i.e. taxpayers) represent a little more than 1% of the County population.
    State employees are taking a 5% paycut. California Faculty Association has had no increase in 5 years, and just signed a contract with no increase for another 4 years. As a sidebar, professors are more educated than almost anyone working for the County, yet their pay usually resides somewhere in the $90,000/year range. That’s the same amount that the County pays an Administrative Analyst, which doesn’t even require a college education.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  7. Robert says:

    Fiscal,
    In all your fact find/missing, did you notice the FACT that the county did not contribute a dime of THEIR contribution for 19 years, that’s YEARS, because the funds were very far ahead. Right up to 2008 when they got slammed. Hed they made their payments, their contributions plus the interest when things were great, would have prevented the need for $600B in pension obligation bonds. The county was deadbeat while every employee contributed their share. But other think the unions are to blame. Such pitiful fools, mislead Kool-aid drinkers. But don’t worry your pretty little heads. A friend of mine is in one of the unions and he showed me, in writing, that there is no legal way to end unions, their contributions to political action or any other constitutionally protected right. So I guess all the union haters just have to sit on their hands an cry. My 401k did fine in 2008 and huge gains since, because I MANAGED it, not let is set and die.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  8. Still Waters says:

    Dear Fiscal Conservative,
    Where do you get your facts? Sonoma County and it’s retirement system have NEVER been on the brink of bankruptcy. The SCERA retirement system has been in place and successfully managing retirement fund for Sonoma County for 60 years. Your wild accusations have no basis in fact.

    Here’s a fact for you:
    The hourly rate of the SEIU Chief Negotiator – who is NOT a lawyer – is less than 20% of the hourly rate of the lawyer on the County’s side of the table. The members dues pay for the SEIU negotiator. The taxpayers pay for the County to hire an outside law firm because their HR Employee Relations Manager isn’t skilled enough to do the job for $12,000/MONTH. She sits in at negotiations but the lawyer does all the talking.

    Structural deficit or structural mismanagement?

    We’re trying to fix and build up something good here for everyone in the community.

    Meanwhile, people like you and R.B. Fish only talk of tearing it all down. Thanks for your compassion and contributions to make the world a better place.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 5

  9. Fiscal Conservative says:

    Sonoma County’s pension debt is so great that bonds were sold to finance and put off bankruptcy.

    $1.87 Billion in pension debt and they want more? Entitled much?

    http://www.watchsonomacounty.com/2012/05/county/sonoma-county-pensions-to-cost-millions-more/

    The difference between the taxpayer and the County employee is simple: The taxpayer is paying the pension payment several times over including interest. The employee only paid one time.

    Our roads suck, our flood channels are plugged with muck, basic services are cut, it is inpossible to buy a permit for anything, the climategate agenda is shoved up our backsides and the debt is overwhelming.

    EPIC FAIL!

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 10

  10. dbarco says:

    How about the PD looking into who is receiving welfare and how much? This is not PC and so I doubt they would ever do so. It is our money and whoever receives it doesn’t have the right to privacy. (That’s what the retirees and employees were told too.) As a county retiree I have witnessed the money that is wasted on slackers and illegals and the welfare queens who have a ton of kids with different men. The citizens have a right to know why illegals can collect money (from children born here) and how many of these kids have major medical/mental issues that we will be paying for till they die. This is not to overlook their kids that turn to crime. This is not to disparage the hard working illegals who don’t collect welfare. I would rather see them getting benefits because they add to the community and not take from it.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

  11. Really? says:

    I cannot beleive how some people are just so thick! Do you not hear what employees are saying? We PAY INTO OUR RETIREMENT A MINIMUM OF 12%. This amount can be more depending on ones age when entering the system. In addition, we are required to pay some kind of Union dues if our job classification is union. Did you know there are employees who are not represented by a union at all and are even not managers. Many of you are completely uninformed but are so angry about your own situations or lack of your own forethought to put away toward your own retirement that you can think of nothing else to do but bash public employees who are working for YOU! We, too are taxpayers; however, we are the ONLY taxpayers paying into OUR RETIREMENTS. We invest just like you can. The difference is, WE ARE REQUIRED TO INVEST a certain percentage of our income SO WE WANT THE PENSIONS THAT WE EARN AND WERE PROMISED AS PART OF OUR EARNINGS.

    In a way…we are all the same. We work for a paycheck. We want what we are entitled to be it our hourly rate, our benefits, if that was part of what was offered when we were hired. Once we are hired, as to what happens to our earnings from that point on, we have very little say. I doubt that any of you would feel any differently than any of us.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 7

  12. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Shared Reductions-you are living in lala land. The managers are in control over the employees’ jobs. They control the process given to them by the BOS. The BOS doesn’t want to “micro” manage. In 2008 and 2009 the manager were in charge of all the layoff decisions. SEIU employees (you know, the ones that actually WORK FOR YOU) got hit with the most layoffs. The managers PROTECTED THEMSELVES. The county is STILL HIRING NEW MANAGERS AND LAYING OFF EMPLOYEES CONTRACTING OUT THEIR JOBS.

    The contracting out DOES NOT SAVE MONEY. And you can especially bet that when more high paid managers are hired it will actually COST MORE in the end with loss in both services and QUALITY of services.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  13. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Fiscal Conservative-THE UNION does not invest the money or has ANY CONTROL over the pension funds. The COUNTY takes from paychecks, contributes some itself which all goes into the SCERA pension fund and is invested. Get it straight.
    THE UNION employees do not do the actual negotiations. COUNTY EMPLOYEES on a bargaining team do the negotiations with BACKUP from the union employees. The members of the union vote for the bargaining team members and the union office holders that represent the workers. The union is a democracy.

    THE UNION IS THE EMPLOYEE MEMBERS. THE WORKERS ARE THE UNION.

    Sometimes even the worker Union members don’t know it and have to be reminded THEY NEED TO DONATE SOME TIME TO PRESERVE THEIR OWN BENEFITS. That includes going to rallies like yesterday at the BOS. That includes working on the various union committees. That includes working for your BOS candidates running for office so we can have a voice on the board who isn’t interested in contracting out jobs and paying high salaries and perks to managers at the WORKERS EXPENSE. That includes working for other candidates running for other offices locally, statewide, or federal.

    Workers unite and protect yourselves. Unions set the standards for all other non union workers.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 6

  14. Public Service Employee for 16 years says:

    There is a misunderstanding with the public that county workers get free retirement, free health insurance, make huge hourly wages, and are generally undeserving of any benefits at all. I would like to give them some insight into what I receive. I am a college graduate, have worked for the public sector, saved money and planned for my retirement. I took a county job at a much lower monthly pay, so that I would benefit in the long run, and not have the immediate satisfaction of a fat monthly paycheck. Through the counties health plan I pay almost $1200 a MONTH to cover insurance for my family of 3. This portion is NOT paid by the county. In 2000 my take home monthly was $1,824.56. My monthly take home in 2012 $1,988.00. This is a difference over 12 years ! I am happy to have a job, I am happy that I am able to live comfortably, and I understand the misconceptions that the public has because of inflated retirements that have been discussed in the papers. My retirement will be around $25,000 a year, but understand that I contributed out of my paycheck and the funds contributed by the county were in lieu of the LOWER salary I agreed to accept so that the difference would go into my retirement. This is not a free ride as many people suggest. I love my job helping the public and hope to continue my service with a smile, even in the face of verbal abuse at the counter from misinformed citizens who feel it is perfectly fine to inform us that they believe we are worthless freeloaders. And for those many citizens that are kind and respectful, thank you !!!

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 4

  15. Mr. Pepperspray Pike says:

    A regional story hit the news yesterday and the Press Democrat has not reported upon it. Our dear friend and public employee, Lt. John Pike, police officer, has now gone un-employed. Of course, like all public employees, he has been sitting on his duff for 6 months while collecting his $110,000 wage and perks despite being under criminal investigation for assaulting non-violent, un-armed, seated protestors by spraying them directly in their faces with pepper spray. The local Sonoma county police & Sheriff’s deputies were on this very board posting anonymous but supportive comments for him because they did not see the criminality of the man.

    Nobody in the real world gets to collect his paycheck and perks while sitting at home watching TV. Only government employees.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 9

  16. Supervisors OVERPAID? says:

    I wonder when SEIU is going to release the salary survey they did on surrounding counties which shows our board of supervisors is paid over 25% more than the same comparable counties used to set employee wages.

    I believe the board should lead from the front by reducing their salary 25% immediately.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 2

  17. Skip D. says:

    This last statement is truly wrong. Public employee’s retirement benefits are not better than private sector retirement packages, unless they don’t offer anything. Than you should reconsider where you are working. In the private sector, my retirement is based on the returns of my 401K investments. These are contributed by my employer and myself. The longer I work, the more money is contributed, therefore, I anticipate a larger retirement package. There is no earnings limit placed on my 401K. The public employee’s need to get paid their retirement.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 8

  18. New Dawn says:

    “Enough is enough!” County negotiators continue to demand a 3 percent wage cut from their lowest paid service workers, Local 1021 members, even though the County has a balanced budget for this new fiscal year. Over the last four years, service workers have had their wages frozen, taken wage reductions with unpaid time off and laid off while high paid managers continue to get exclusive perks like deferred compensation and pensionable car allowances.
    That message was driven home as the union’s bargaining team members Kerry Bargsten and Tim Tuscany gave their negotiations update report to the members. Directing his comments to the Board, Tuscany told them to “get their 3 percent somewhere else,” suggesting they look at management’s deferred comp and the county’s out-of-whack ratio of managers to line staff.
    “Hey, hey, ho, ho! Six to one has got to go!” Although the County claims it has a structural deficit, the union maintains its real problem is structural mismanagement. It has a manager to line staff ratio of less than 6 to 1. Over the last five years more than 600 county positions have been eliminated, but only 44 of them were managers. Managers, with their six-figure salaries and pensions, have been retained while staff who provide services have been cut. Flattening the management structure could save the County millions of dollars a year.
    “Affordable health care now!” Since 2008 workers have shouldered a total of a 51% spike in health care premium costs making it unaffordable for many, especially those with families. Almost a third of the county Local 1021 workers pay 30 percent or more of wages to cover healthcare premiums. Over this same period of time, hundreds of county employees have dropped their dependents from coverage because they had to choose between basic needs and healthcare.
    Human Services worker Isabel Palacios told the assembly that she had worked at the county for it health care and pension, but now the cost was too high. “After 16 years I had to take my children off the plan and put them into Healthy Sonoma,” she said, referring to the county’s plan for those who can’t afford health insurance.
    Santa Rosa City Council member Susan Gorin, now the Local 1021 endorsed candidate for Board of Supervisors District 1, addressed the rally, complementing the union for expanding the conversation to include the management to staff ratio and deferred comp.
    “Yours are employee issues, family issues and community issues,” she said, pledging to always listen to the union.
    The rally ended with a reminder to members to call their Supervisors and press the union’s issues.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 6

  19. Clay Mitchell says:

    @Union Guy-

    Thank you for sharing those facts. It’s important that we fully understand the situation and the reality of how it works if we are to fix a broken system.

    You state that the money for pensions comes from the County Retirement Fund, not from tax revenue.

    So if the retirement fund is underfunded, what happens then? Are you suggesting that the County would not allocate County money (general fund or other wise) to make up the difference?

    Cause if the liability for the short fall falls on the taxpayers, then it seems that having the money in a separate fund is really a distinction without a difference, wouldn’t you say?

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 7

  20. ezr vinh says:

    FYI – No County or City employee can retire at 40. If you leave service you will have to leave the money in the retiremant plan and wait until you are at least 50 to take anything out.

    As a non safety employee you are only entitled to a fraction of the retirement if you choose to retire at 50. A bigger fraction at 55 and maximum at 60.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  21. Fiscal Conservative says:

    Simply smoke and mirrors.

    The problem is the DEFINED BENIFIT.

    The contributions by the taxpayer and the employee were squandered. Now the taxpayer and only the taxpayer has to pay again and again to fill the defined promised amount per year.

    If we (the taxpayers) only had to pay our share one time, like the employee, there would not be a problem.

    Defined contributions ARE coming to the public sector. SEIU propaganda does not answer the question where the hell the union invested money went? Only that they are distancing themselves from the more obvious theft while enhancing the opinion that the average public worker is entitled to more and more.

    There will be Department of Justice investigations prompted by the bankruptcy of municipalities.

    The taxpayer will not continue being forced to be the victim of the defined benifit pension fraud scam.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 16

  22. R.B.Fish says:

    @ New Dawn. Very difficult to respond to such ignorance but you reinforce why unions should be abandoned. I was an union worker to help with college education and later on because I needed a job for which I was highly qualified. Later on in life in management and consulting positions I was able to keep my employer out of the union mess and save his company and produce revenues. I personally know companies that have purposely been destroyed by unions and gone bankrupct so that unions could control the industry.

    There are plenty of federal and state laws to protect the employer and unions are not needed.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 19

  23. Bruce Anthony says:

    The six figure salaries and lavish pensions that the Press Democrat keeps writing about belong to MANAGERS and DIRECTORS-they are not workers and they ARE NOT UNION. Those of you who keep bashing unions and demanding that we do away with them (which is unconstitutional by the way) are either extremely poor readers or just union haters (like “Missy”)
    The managers and directors and captains who are gaming the system must be laughing as they watch you attack the working people who make barely middle class wages and benefits while they and their administrators and directors rob the county blind with deferred comp, paid automobiles and other expensive perks as Managers. Laughing all the way to the bank!

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 5

  24. The truth is.... says:

    Public Employees pensions are NOT funded by tax payer’s money or the County General Fund!!!

    Public Employees’ wages are earned (definition of earned: To gain especially for the performance of service, labor, or work; to acquire or deserve as a result of effort or action)! The employees have a REQUIRED minimum retirement contribution which is about 12% of their pay! The funds are then INVESTED on their behalf! The pensions are paid to them through this fund.

    There are families working for the County which earn less than $600 take home pay every two weeks because of the high cost of medical benefits, required minimum pension contributions, union dues, and taxes. WHO CAN SUPPORT CHILDREN on that pay???? CAN YOU??? These are hard working people who show up every day to do a job (which the public benefits from) and appreciate the opportunity to earn what little pay they do.

    There are many things that the County is looking at to help reduce the annual costs/debt. A big start would be to analyze the manager/employee ratios and implement some changes. This is not all they can do though. There is a lot of work to be done and change won’t happen overnight.

    Before you judge all County Employees alike, please understand that a very, very, small % of them are living with these “high” salaries and that most of them are barely making it day to day just like the rest of the public! The ones making it day to day agree with the public that change needs to happen! But change needs to start from the top down. To cut from the bottom would only make a larger adverse impact on the cost of public services and the county’s budget because you would then see an increase in applications for the Health Families Medical Program, Food Stamps, Housing Assistance, and other county/state funded services.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 8

  25. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    County employees are NOT CALPERS. The county has it’s own retirement system. The city and the bus drivers are CALPERS.
    As for those who just don’t get that the less that 6:1 (less than 6 employees to each management position) is a ridiculously low ratio, well, I can’t say much about their math. What it means is that the county is TOP HEAVY IN HIGH PAID MANAGERS WITH COUNTY PAID DEFERRED COMP AND OTHER PERKS PADDING THEIR PENSIONS. They DO cost more and they tend to retire early unlike the lower paid rank and file. The public needs FRONTLINE WORKERS because the rank and file provide the services. The more managers the less money for services. There is a direct correlation. In fact, the county has ADDED managers since the first of the year as more contracting out is done. Apparently you need more high paid managers to manage the contracting out funds. Laid off are TRAINED STAFF THAT ARE EXCELLENT AT THEIR JOB AND WHO CARE ABOUT THE PUBLIC THEY SERVE. I know a number of very good employees who have been with the county a very long time who just got their notices of layoff.

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 8

  26. New Dawn says:

    Again the public is misinformed. When I retire at 67 years old I will received 70% of my wages for 20 years. There are very few of us that retire at 100%. I pay into both retirement packages with hope that it will substain me in my golden years. I have worker since 15 years old and 39 years I have earned every penny of the money I make. There is no free ride here. Contrary to the belief, we work and hard to see that all public programs get their funding so low income families have medical care, food stamps and other services. I don’t work in the police/fire department but I can tell you that when you are in trouble those people you want to lose their pension are the same ones that respond.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 7

  27. Shared Reductions says:

    Why divide the workplace? How do we benefit as an organization when this becomes a management against non-management; union against non-union issue? How about we all own a share of the solution and share in the necessary reductions?

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 12

  28. Anne Crawford says:

    Once again, people must remember that the county employees are TAX PAYERS TOO!!
    Still so many uneducated people in regards to this matter! Really a shame!

    A.C.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 8

  29. Union Guy says:

    Still Waters types are the main reason people are upset, because they get a little info and think they know something. SCLEA is not the highest paid line staff. That belongs to the DSA, Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Once agin people are confusing CalPers with the County retirement. They are not the same, they have different earning rates and the county plan has much better than CalPers. Aslo, The top retirement for any employee is 100%, not the 90% cap in CalPers. You just have to stay long enough. 34 years for a deputy and 34 years and 60 years of age for a general employee. Another tiny fact, the money for retiree payments comes from the Sonoma County Retirement Fund. Seperate from the County Gov’t, money is put in and it belongs to the participants and it is paid out from that fund, not the taxpayers. The county does not pay a person for their job and a person who retired from that job. I know there are those who will claim that since I have a gov’t job and am paid with taxpayers money that my house is owned by the taxpayers, my caris owned by the taxpayers and I am owned by the taxpayers. It is a JOB people. When I get paid, it is MY money, no longer yours. Get over it. And no, NO ONE should retire making more than they did while working, NO ONE. Just like everything else here, MY opinion.

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 11

  30. R.B.Fish says:

    @ Bob Whittaker.

    Thanks you for your comment regarding my post. It is comments like yours that re-confirm my belief that all unions especially non-safety public service must end. Now that 90% or more of the non- union working public realizes what a scam public employees make and the pensions they have it will be about 10 years and unions will be gone. Even liberal Sonoma County is disgusted.. As a society we have no alternative but to stop the financial madness for over paying for simple labor activities. I challenge any public service employee to tell the SCW audience what you do on a daily basis. You can start at 5AM when I start if I sleep. Tell us what happens if you don’t perform your daily job description activities. Tell us what you do when there are not enough funds in the bank account to pay your employees at the end of the week? Tell us why you are worth so much to Sonoma County. Why should we pay higher taxes to pay for your bloated pensions? If you start at age 21 and work for 20 years retiring at 41 (with a $50 K pension) you will have a pension not including health and other benefits of over $2 million.

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  31. Sonoma Coma says:

    When do we find out how much the Union Reps are being paid to negotiate deals where rank and file employees are laid off and top county officials walk away with $200k + pension packages?

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  32. Steveguy says:

    Front line workers, the County workers that actually work, deserve a decent pension.

    The abuse is in the cops and mismanagement sectors.

    Unsustainable is just that, it is math. It pains me to see the front line County workers getting furloughs and such, while their ‘managers’ shuffle papers, done by an underling raking in raises and perks.

    The system is broken folks. Get it yet ?

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  33. Jean Anderson says:

    @Bob Whittaker

    That’s the problem…pensions should be banned from public jobs, or at least made very reasonable, such as $3,000 per month.

    Anything else is a crock. And calling people uneducated reflects badly on you.

    The leeching needs to stop.

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  34. New Dawn says:

    R.B. Fish has no clue what a union is or why they are important. Remember a day when there was no vacation pay, holiday pay, sick pay, benefits, retirement option, over-time pay, or a 40 hour work week? Unions made these things possible. Private sector models their plans around what unions do. I have worked in both so I can safety say this. If R. B. Fish had his way, everyone private or public would work for nothing and get nothing in the end. We would all die hungry.

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  35. GAJ says:

    I’m not sure anyone is “attacking” 2%@60 pensions; I certainly am not.

    Mr. Gwynne’s pension is about $33,000/year with 16 years service, retiring in 2011, last position listed as a “Special Assessment Supervisor” in the tax collections department.

    If he was earning close to six figures, then he was not vesting at 3%/year.

    2% annual vesting should be the CAP on vesting, not the floor as it is now!

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  36. GAJ says:

    Juvenal assets that the lies CalPers made in the early 2000′s to jack up Pensions had no affect on County Pensions.

    That is laughable.

    Prior to CalPers’ assertions that such idiotic pensions as 3% at 50 were “sustainable” and “cost neutral no such thing existed anywhere in California.

    The County followed CalPers’ recommendations to the “T”! Even the Supervisors have 3% vesting for their Pensions when in reality Supervisors, (like State Legislators), should have NO pension whatsoever.

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  37. Bob Whittaker says:

    Wow. lot’s of uneducated people posting here. Pension IS part of your employment compensation folks. I am sorry that you think it’s “taxpayer money” but the fact is that these people gave up years of their lives to earn pay and benefits. If they have deferred raises and other benefits to add to their pension, that is good retirement planning on their part and they WORKED for the money (it’s not a gift) Finally I am not surprised the tea partiers on this site think it’s ok for everyone to end up old and poor after living on a ten dollar an hour wage for thirty years. These haters would just as soon have us all eating cat food and dying with no health care as long as they were in charge and there was no government. Luckily most of us realize that our whole community is healthier when workers (WHO ARE ALSO TAXPAYERS BY THE WAY) have good wages and healthcare and are not a burden on our emergency rooms and soup kitchens.
    Very few people can live and save money for retirement on the minimum wages these folks want to pay. Now that private sector companies have tanked the economy and stolen millions from all of us, they want to race to the bottom for wages in the public sector too. Instead of trying to raise the standard of living for all their answer is to have us competing with workers in China,Mexico and India. We should be working on raising ALL workers wages to a fair day’s work for a fair days pay with benefits that allow for a dignified retirement, and secure old age and which allow a family to raise and educate their children. That’s not too much to ask, after all it was the American Way for many years thanks to unions. And it can be that way again if we support each other as workers and stop acting like crabs in a bucket trying to tear each other down.

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  38. Still Waters says:

    To correct R.B. Fish – this is NOT more than they made while they were working. You are confusing the SEIU members with the public safety union SCLEA who often go out with 90% or more of their salary in pension. They are the highest cost (perhaps just behind Department Heads) to the retirement system.

    Memories are short around this issue. Just a few years before the 2008 crash, most private industry was paying better and providing better benefits than public service agencies. Have you forgotten the DotCom days?

    While $51K may seem generous, remember that is pre-tax and there are no cost of living adjustments for at least 10 years or longer. And remember, we are living in one of the most expensive areas in the Country. This “generous” pension supports not just one person but also their spouse or partner and sometimes dependents: adult children with special needs, grandchildren abandonded by their parents who are unable to care for them.

    Would you prefer a nation of welfare senior citizens? Would that make you feel better?

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  39. Juvenal says:

    The article is excellent, especially the suggestion that management be prevented from proliferating at the cost of line employees and public services.

    The comments elicited by the article so far are rife with nonsense, however.

    “GAJ”: CalPERS has nothing to do with County pensions.

    “Peace and Justice,” “Jim,” and “Jean Anderson”: Public pensions are partly paid for by the employees themselves and partly EARNED, paycheck by paycheck, during employees’ working lives. They are therefore not “generous.” Neither are they “pay for no service,”

    Any analysis of employer contributions toward pensions in isolation from overall compensation is just dishonest.

    If public pensions were abolished today, government would be forced to compete with the private sector by paying present day cash paid up front. As it is, Wall Street, even with its vagaries from year to year, pays the lion’s share of every dollar paid to retired employees.

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  40. John Galt says:

    I find it hard to believe that the massively increasing unfunded pension liability is due ONLY or primarily to managers’ salaries.

    I think it is more likely that the compensation structure, from top to bottom, ran away from anything reasonable during the boom years in the early/mid 2000′s, and that the reason that Mr. Gwynne can point to what he thinks is a reasonable average for front line employees is that many of those who will receive much higher pensions simply haven’t retired yet.

    In other words, there is an avalanche coming.

    I don’t at all disagree with his assertions that the county is top heavy, and that management ratios should be increased. For heaven’s sake- if the average “manager” is only managing 5 people, they really aren’t exercising a whole lot of management expertise.

    But saving $16M per year is not going to save our County from financial collapse. We’re talking hundreds of millions in unfunded pension liabilities…..

    I get the feeling that those at the County who are talking about pension reform, like Supervisors Zane and Rabbit, think that they get to pick and choose between reform measures. The reality is that the situation is so bad, they are going to have to do pretty much EVERYTHING that is being suggested, and possibly even more.

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  41. R.B.Fish says:

    Completely and absolutey outrageous to receive a $51,000 ++ for 20 years of non-safety public work. It’s more then they made while working. What an unblieveable scam. What do public non-saftey employees do? END UNIONS NOW!

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  42. Jean Anderson says:

    No one should qualify for a six-figure pension paid for by taxpayers.

    No one.

    A $50,000 annual pension is extremely generous.

    Why public pensions even exist is another matter to discuss.

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  43. Jim says:

    Big or not, there is no argument why taxpayers should continue to pay a worker who provides NO service to them.

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  44. Let's be Reasonable says:

    If the County is anything like Santa Rosa, then laying off managers will result in their bumping to non-management positions and the layoff of line staff. Like GAJ says, be careful what you wish for.

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  45. Snarky says:

    CalPers is currently preparing to send in another demand to the State of California due to “low performing investments of 1%.”

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  46. Snarky says:

    What isn’t mentioned by government is that the “Public Safety Pension System” includes far more job categories than that of just police and fire.

    Yes, sir.

    The government does not want the public to know how many job categories fall under that lucrative, excessive system.

    Wonder if the Press Democrat might ever publish the full list of job categories that are allowed to retire at age 50 with 90% of pay for the remainder of life??? Probably not.

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  47. Give them a break says:

    Thanks for informing people that not every public servant has a high salary and large pension. It seems that it is easy for the general public to point a finger at pensions without considering that a good majority of public servants are highly educated, work hard for the public, and CHOSE to do public service. I only hope the public remembers this the next time they decide to bash public servants.

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  48. Peace & Justice says:

    The issue is not how little the SEIU pensions might be, it is how out of whack SEIU pensions are with private sector pensions. A $51,095 a year pension is a very good pension to retire on compared to what similar jobs in the private sector get.

    This in addition to the high public salaries these SEIU employees receive.

    No, it is not time to feel sorry for SEIU and their meager $51,000 a year pensions. It is time to feel sorry for the taxpayers who fund this mess and who continue to fund the ever increasing SEIU pensions with their cost of living increases, vacation payouts, etc.

    These public SEIU pensions are outrageous when compared with like work in the private sector.

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  49. GAJ says:

    SEIU employees have been sacrificed at the alter of the elite Public Safety Unions who received unsustainable upgrades in the early 2000′s at the behest of Calpers and their lies.

    Mind you, those upgrades were also supported by SEIU who were hoping for “trickle down” upgrades for their members.

    Be careful what you wish for.

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