By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will tackle proposals that could curtail the county’s spiraling pension costs, including controls on spiking and cuts to salaries for current employees.
Other proposals include reducing pension formulas for new employees, eliminating county contributions to deferred compensation plans and eliminating other non-salary compensation from pension eligibility.
County officials estimate the changes would save county government $13.4 million annually in salary and benefit costs, and in 10 years, $11.7 million in annual pension costs.
Supervisor David Rabbitt called the proposals a “good first step” toward addressing the county pension costs, which are up 401 percent since 2000 and are now estimated at $94.3 million a year.
“The ultimate goal is everyone agreeing to the needed and necessary reforms, which I believe they will,” said Rabbitt, who serves on the pension board.
Supervisors will take up the matter as a “resolution of intent” because labor groups representing county employees must agree to the changes before any could be implemented.
The county currently is negotiating with the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, which is the largest union, representing about half of the county’s 3,500 employees.
A union spokesman declined comment last week.
Among other things, the county is demanding that employees accept a 3 percent reduction in total compensation, including salary and benefits. The reduction would save the county about $3.2 million annually.
The proposal calls for the largest compensation cut — 6.9 percent — to hit the Board of Supervisors, followed by 4 percent cuts for department heads and 3.5 percent for administrative managers.
SEIU officials argue that in the past four years, employees have had their wages frozen, taken wage reductions with unpaid time off or been laid off, while managers have continued to receive perks such as county-paid deferred compensation retirement account payments and car allowances. Both benefits help to boost managers’ pensions.
Some SEIU supervisors also receive deferred compensation, but at a lower county-paid rate of 0.5 percent. The rate for most managers is 4.5 percent; for county supervisors, it is 6 percent.
Rabbitt said Tuesday’s pension discussion is not intended to put pressure on labor groups but to show that supervisors are “leading by example.”
“It hopefully eliminates unproductive discussions and narrows discussions to items that will achieve closure and agreement,” he said.
The proposed changes include reducing pensionable pay to curtail end-of-career moves that can “spike” pensions, including cashouts of accrued leave and final-year bonuses.
The county also would establish a second pension tier for new hires.
Currently, public safety workers can retire at age 50 with 3 percent of their pay for every year worked – effectively 90 percent of their highest year’s compensation based on a 30-year career.
The county is proposing to change the formula for new public safety workers to 3 percent at age 55.
The corresponding benefit for general workers allows retirement at age 60 with 3 percent of their highest year’s pay for every year worked.
The county proposes to change that formula to 2 percent at age 61.25.