WatchSonoma Watch

Sonoma County targets surging pension costs


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.

44 Responses to “Sonoma County targets surging pension costs”

  1. jenny says:

    cut from the top this time!
    the bottom has been cut and cut and cut-enough is enough!!!

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  2. Union Guy says:

    See, you still dont get it. It is all about choices. Many people make bad choices intheir lives that exculude them from things in the future. Do you want a cop responding to a neighbor to address a drug issue with drug dealers he bought dope from? Do you want the cops investigating your theft who has been convicted of theft? Do you want liars who cant pass a lie detector test? Do you want public employees who sell you information to the highest bidder?

    These choices exclude being positions of any trust.

    Sure, the pension system looks bad. I never thought anyone should get more in retirement than when working. When presented with a choice to quit and take your money or retire and receive a monthly payment, what would you choose? Quit and walk away from 30 years with a savings account? Their is no other option. Please, take it to a vote. I know how Sonoma County votes. I see who they have elected over and over and over.

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  3. GAJ says:

    That’s rich; only one out of 700 can qualify to be a Deputy.

    Sounds like it’s harder to become a Deputy than a Supreme Court Justice.

    Perhaps the Department has manufactured a mind numbing selection process to create an artificial shortage to justify their obscene pay and bennies.

    Certainly when it comes retirement time these carefully selected Public Safety members lose all their ethics and dive into the public trough like pelicans in order to spike their pensions to the detriment of the taxpayer.

    Yeah, they’re so special and “better” than your average bear.

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  4. Union Guy says:

    I have to laugh when I see comments that there are thousands of qualified people waiting to take your place. Really? The Sheriff tested 700 people for deputy. They got it down to 200 That qualified on paper. Out of that, they put over 30 through the background investigation. They were able to hire one. Everyone else was a liar, or a thief, or did too many drugs, or had psych issues or medical issues. In other words, so far, 699 were not qualified. I heard they re still trying to hire dispatchers. Same thing. 5 openings out of 25 and no one can pass a background. They can’t use lying, dope smoking, drug dealing, thieving people. Even though it was only an i-pod they stole at age 22. How bad can they be? Thieves, liars and druggys need not apply.

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  5. Snarky says:

    Chet Huntley:

    You should really try to get your news somewhere beside the Press Democrat. :)

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. Snarky says:


    Share with us on this board, John, why council members sometimes spend more on their electioneering than they get in return through stipends once elected.

    Stated another way, share with us why someone would spend more money than a job pays in return.

    I know that to be the case in at least one person’s election.

    You seem to know.

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  7. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Fiscal Conservative-the county BOS had their chance to change the ratio of employees to managers (less than 6:1) during 2008. Instead they changed the formula of the healthcare for families (and managers had just received a 3% raise by the way)and now nearly 600 of them have dropped their spouses and children off the plan. Some of them going on their spouses plan, some of them buying private insurance, AND SOME OF THEM GOING ON THE DOLE.
    The BOS gave the managers the control over the layoffs. The managers protected themselves, some even got job description changes which elevated their income while they “painfully” laid off rank and file. The BOS never gave a directive to lay off the same percentage of managers as rank and file members (even though the ratio was was low then too). So the ratio went down even more. The perks remained that padded managers pensions. Now the BOS says the managers will be sacrificing too, yet they’ve added new management positions since the first of the year so the ratio is probably even lower than whats been in the PD recently. Management positions are being created, contracting out jobs are happening, and rank and file are AGAIN GETTING LAYOFFS.
    Rank and File work for you. People ridicule and vilify public employees, but from my position I know those public employees do the best they can for the public and are over loaded because of the layoffs. If people think management took over those duties they would be just plain wrong and if they did take over the excess work then they are way overpaid for the level of work and need to be laid off.

    Just imagine that if the BOS (and BOB Deis) really solved the top heavy management issue back in 2008 how much money (pension obligation too) would have been saved if those excess managers were laid off too.

    The BOS has again given the responsibility to the managers. Guess what, more layoffs. The BOS can’t be trusted and the only reason they put this “fair” offer out to the PD is because they know the public wants to evicerate public employees. The employees really harmed will be those at the bottom AS ALWAYS. The managers will remain AND NOTHING WILL BE SAVED.

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  8. John says:

    @ Snarky – Do you know that city council members get paid a very SMALL stipend for their time. They are not there for the money.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 7

  9. Fiscal Conservative says:


    The links I posted, provided insight into the pension crisis and what is being done by
    other Municipal Governments to remedy the situation. This is the likely outcome if the
    current course is followed. It’s not political, its bottom line financial.

    My apologies for upsetting you with Fox news links, I however, believe the reporting was
    to the point and well done. Did you listen to them?

    Please tell me your opinions on remedies for fixing the County pension crisis? Simply
    laying off a handful of middle managers does not make $2 Billion plus interest.

    Now that the Bond market has been made aware that funding was not used for
    infrastructure, but for ever increasing debt, what do you think will happen???

    I do not want anyone financially hurt by this crisis. I want to see a win/win situation. This
    is best addressed in the now. The wake-up call has come to the taxpayer, that is always
    followed by hell to pay. I am concerned that not only will there be local measures limiting
    pensions, but also collective bargaining limits and State Propositions that will have far
    reaching limits that will change the expected outcome of current municipal employees.

    I believe, making a stand on entitlement will fail. The County by all reasonable measures is

    The employees and Unions have the unique opportunity to lead to a sustainable outcome.
    This will take some amazing talent to reconcile the figures as well as heroic selflessness by
    each individual. This truly is a once in a lifetime leadership opportunity.

    I want to see you win and remedy this situation. A win /win for generations to come.

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  10. Snarky says:

    Government employment is so sweet and lucrative that those who choose to retire turn around and find a way back in.

    Why, look at the Mayor of Santa Rosa. A retired cop who has nothing better to do that to come on back!

    Or, look to the US Supreme Court where the judges hang in there until they approach 90 years old.

    Heck, Jerry Brown qualifies for three public pensions by his own admission… yet at age 72 (going on 73), he can’t resist the government lifestyle.

    Swwwweeeeeeet !

    Make you wonder why government people utter that falsity… “we could earn more in the private sector!” LOL.

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  11. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Fiscal Conservative-can’t believe you actually put in a link to Fox-no-Faux No News. FOX Fiction News is a joke. That tells me everything I need to know about you. Faux does not represent fiscal conservatives and you can’t even see it. Faux represents the 1%, not the working man. Faux supports the Republican agenda that yell jobs in public and cuts them behind the scenes with their insane agenda. Faux supports the social behavior legislation and women’s health bashing legislation that will cost this country billions (so much for smaller government and savings). It’s been spend and borrow all the way starting with Reagan. Bush blew the bank and stole the funds from the middleclass to concentrate the wealth of this country at the top 5%. Obama inherited this mess and after the first three months private employment started inclining instead of declining like under Bush. We stay in this worker depression because government rank and file employees are being laid off in DROVES. They support the local economies because they HAD SECURE PAYCHECKS AND BENEFITS. The more of them that get laid off the more the economy declines. We would be in a lot better place today if the government employees had not been laid off. Their demand for goods and services stimulate local businesses who then need to add employees to meet the demand.

    I’d like to get my roof done. That’s local jobs. But I can’t afford it because of the cuts to my paycheck and the increases in my contribution to health care.

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  12. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Of The Few-why don’t you come a take one of the civil service county tests for a job and see how “dime a dozen” these lower jobs are? Maybe take one of the California job tests? MOST PEOPLE CAN’T PASS THEM. Many of those dime a dozen workers are college graduates even in the lower jobs.

    Stop making guesses and vilifying government workers. They work FOR YOU and they do the best with what they have. You aren’t always a great bunch to work for, but they keep trying to please you. In return you want them to work for nothing. They are tax payers too and support this community with their paychecks.

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  13. GAJ says:

    Public Safety doesn’t give a hoot about “General” employees or the taxpayer.

    Here’s their response to the proposals which essentially leave their pension formulas untouched for new hires.

    “Clites said public safety employees will oppose the board’s demand that they take a 3 percent cut in total compensation, the equivalent of a 5 percent reduction in salary if benefits and other compensation are untouched.

    “We’re going to ask for a pay raise because we don’t think we’re being paid enough compared to other counties,” Clites said.”

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 5

  14. Snarky says:

    Too little, too late.

    Vote “NO” on the November tax increases.

    Why reward greedy local & state government for their destroying the fabric of our society i.e. cutting schools while they fund their public pensions.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 7

  15. Still Waters says:

    Correction Big Jim – Sonoma County employees get NO COLA on their pensions. Zero. Whether your pension is $10,000/mo or $1,000/mo, you get NO COLA. Sonoma is the only 37 Act County without a built-in COLA for pensions.

    And to the rest of you – County employees pay taxes just like you do. Maybe that’s why they are just as invested in seeing the County reduce unnecessary perks for the select few and eliminate redundant meddle-management – oops sorry I meant to say middle-management. My bad.

    My point is the employees are the insiders in the system and see 1st hand how their tax dollars are being spent and they are as pissed off about the mis-management as everyone else out there.

    This “Intent” by the Board isn’t worth the paper it’s written on until they actually start taking action to address the structural mismanagement of your tax dollars on golden parachutes for paper-pushers at the top of the food chain.

    For 3 years the employees took cuts while top administrators kept $4.2 million in deferred comp, vehicle allowances,and other perks.

    What you don’t see in the “Intent” is that, of the % that management and administration is claiming they are giving up, there is a hidden “claw-back” of 2.5% they will get back in the form of non-pensionable contribution to a health reimbursement account.

    No other county workers have been offered this deal. Just the Big Fish.

    Ask your Board of Supervisors about this “claw-back”. I wonder if they even know about this sweet backroom deal. If they do know and they still think we should all jump up and kiss their rings because they “intend” to reduce their overall compensation then they are really out of touch and have no business saying they ran for office to serve the people of this County.

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  16. Chet Huntley says:

    @Fiscal Conservative

    You should really try to get your news and opinion elsewhere than FOX.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 15

  17. Oscar Meyer says:


    “The state has an unfunded liability (UNFUNDED!) of $500+ billion.”

    This, of course, is baloney.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

  18. wonderwoman says:

    Lived in Sonoma County all of my life and Ihave never seen a “resolution of intent.”

    Leading is actually doing not intending.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  19. Just Me says:

    And just for the record, I think Management needs to be cut, and the ones that are left need to grow some kahunas and get rid of the bad apples!

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  20. Just Me says:

    Hmm…let’s see…these County workers are the ones who make sure you get your Welfare Checks and your free Medical. Do you really want to lay them off and cut their pay?

    They’ve increased Management and require them to work 80 plus hours in a two week pay period. Most of them do, but some bad apples take advantage and don’t.

    They’ve reduced the working class employees, cut their pay and require them to do the jobs of two or more employees in their 40 hour work week. Most I know put in at least 50 hrs a week with no overtime compensation…Oh yeah, that’s because there is no budget for overtime…and they are still overloaded with work that can’t be completed in a timely manner which makes you the taxpaying public complain even more!

    Taxpaying Public, here it is. YOU ARE JEALOUS that you don’t have the qualifications to get the County job! So you will complain instead.

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  21. Of the Few says:

    Look what happened to San Jose. I agree the general county worker ie: clerical, road dept. are a dime a dozen but skilled workers: Engineers, electricians, Instrument techs, Water wastewater Mechanics are hard to come by. Why should a division of the county, The Water Agency make their workers take cuts when they have not had their revenue go down. in fact they have made $$

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  22. Lets be Reasonable says:

    How come new public safety will still get 3% when other employees will only get 2%!? It is public safety pensions which are causing most of the problem! I like Gov Brown’s proposal of having public employees pay 50% of the cost of any defined benefit pension. That creates a built-in incentive for current employees to choose a lower cost plan.

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  23. Follower says:

    This is just a snap shot of things to come.
    You think these people have run Pensions into the ground? Just wait till they get their filthy hands fully wrapped around your Health Care!

    You ain’t seen nuthin yet!

    Pension mismanagement only affects a select few.

    Health Care mismanagement will affect us ALL!

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  24. county employee says:

    Token reductions which only occur if far lower paid employees agree to the same. This is leadership Sonoma style.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  25. c larsen says:

    Public workers are over compensated…the Administrators/Mgrs…are grossly over compensated. Raise are h2o rates cause the revenue has fallen due to h20 saving. Cops/fire/state/county/city workers spiking pension pay is common practice. Most are receiving more after retirement than while working. No sense, business math and corruption has created this mess.

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  26. 4G says:

    Obviously the little too late effort by the Board of Supervisors is being done in the face of the November election.

    The fanboy county employees commenting on this site have no idea about what makes this economic work and why they have jobs. It is the hard working taxpayers that pay the bills, not those employed at the county administrative center or at the corp yard.

    If real progress is going to be made on controlling the county pension plan and county budget, substantial cuts in pension benefits and pay will have to be made. This happens every day in the private sector.

    If the county employees feel they are not treated well, it is time to move on and get that resume going. Sitting there crying and complaining about how much they struggle or how much they have given up has no impact in the real work of work or economy. Only their spouses or mothers care. It doesn’t even work in Cuba.

    Time for the county to pull their boots up and buckle their pants and get to work cutting and wacking the budget and pensions.

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  27. Roger says:

    The county brought in Bob Deis several years back with this task in mind specifically. He was to work at a solution to bring down the unfunded liability that threatened to bankrupt the county. He played hardball with the unions, the unions ran him out of the county (the BOS let it happen) and now here we are 6 years later and back to square one.

    We could have spent this time making real progress. Instead, we’ve spent the time sitting back with our heads in the sand while the liability ballooned.

    Yes, of course it’s a pity that the county made promises they can’t afford to keep. Sorry about that. I understand it sucks. But now, we need to move on and fix this before the county is bankrupt and county employees are out of a job!

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  28. Taxpayer says:

    Nibbling around the edges does nothing.Can’t they stop worrying about the next election and do some REAL pension/compensation reform.Fix it now or bankrupt later.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 8

  29. Big Jim says:

    Here is an example of the problem for those who may still not get it:
    Mario Jimenez retired last year from a Deputy Sheriff job in Sonoma County. His last year base pay was $51,616.14. He also was paid $19,983.73 in Overtime and $50,690.15 in Other pay. He is now receiving an annual pension of $117,996 per year. *More than double base pay*
    Assuming he got 3% pay raises over his 33.15 year career (it was probably higher), and that his COLA will increase pension payout by 3% per year. Also assuming that the Other pay was a onetime spiking increase – don’t know for sure – then he was paid a total of $1.48 million over his career in base and OT pay. If he lives to 80 and is around 50 now, then he will receive $5.6 million in retirement, not including medical benefits.
    Who in the private sector will recieve four times more in retirement than their entire paid career? Why should taxpayers be on the hook to make up for SCERA and CALPERS obvious inability to fund such exorbitantly generous pensions?
    The solution is defined contributions – as a taxpayer I’m OK with that, but not this black hole of defined benefits no one can possibly afford! And I don’t care who was responsible, I want to know who is going to fix this broken mess! Real solutions, not lip service!

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  30. Fiscal Conservative says:

    The previous failure to act, waiting for an economic upturn was a critical failure. Financing the
    debt was a fraudulent act.

    What actions the Board does not take, may be forced by taxpayers.


    Measure ‘B’….Coming soon!

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  31. Sonoma Gone Crazy says:


    Do more digging Mr. Moore, for example, why did salaries/benefits go UP in the County Shelter by $35,000 from last year if everyone is taking cuts? That would include members of the union that seems to think they own the whole County. Not people that pay oh you know, things like property taxes and other taxes. I suggest start looking at the Budgets line by line. But here is the $35,000 question will the Press Democrat actually dig deeper?

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  32. Snarky says:

    County Worker:

    Can’t afford any more cuts to your paycheck?

    Sounds like you need to seek other employment.

    After all, isn’t you government people who claim that you “can make more in the private sector” ????

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 11

  33. R.B.Fish says:

    @ Jim. Well said. Hopefully there will be a Hail Mary play of some sort in the forth coming elections. Many of the liberals I know simply do not see the big picture and are stuck someplace in life without realizing they are destroying their childrens lives. (Liberals of course outside the terminal cases that are smarter than everyone that post on this site).

    End public service unions now!

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  34. Jim says:

    This is all lip service. Nothing significant will change, just like at the state and federal level. Proposals to save $11 million in 10 years when the current estimate is $94 million? Is this for real? How can a newspaper print this kind of garbage?

    The same gibberish is babbled by the State and Feds. The state has an unfunded liability (UNFUNDED!) of $500+ billion. Yet the elected thieves argue over a few million here and there. We have the Democrats and the Republicans arguing at the Federal level about a few billion here and there when the deficit is $15 TRILLION!!!

    The level of financial incompetence at every level of government is outrageous. Unfortunately the American people are too stupid to understand that saving $200 billion over a decade DOES NOTHING to address a $15 TRILLION deficit. The interest alone on the debt is $5 billion/day. That’s $1.8 TRILLION/year. Interest over a decade, at the current debt level, is $18 TRILLION! WHO CARES ABOUT $200 BILLION A DECADE FROM NOW??

    Only the easily manipulated, sponge-headed voters who believe one side is better than the other.

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  35. Union Guy says:

    Sounds like a good first step to me.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 40

  36. county worker says:

    I am sorry but 3% to a lower paid worker can mean a new pair of shoes for my child while it might mean not getting an appitizer at that nice restaurant for a manager or supervisor. I don’t eat out because I can’t afford to and I can’t afford anymore cuts.

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  37. bear says:

    Think it through. Lower wages mean less spending in the overall economy, and will make it harder to attract qualified employees. Especially considering the high cost of housing. More people will retire and move out of county.

    I do not understand why outrage is not directed at republican policy disasters,
    such as: blowing pre-9/11 intelligence, blowing the response (3 fighters from the whole East Coast?), urging the deregulation of the financial sector, failing to use existing law to regulate financial actions, involving us in two “off-the-budget” wars with hundreds of thousands dead or maimed, destabilization of the entire Middle East, tax cuts for the rich, recognizing corporations as “people,” voter supression tactics, anti-union laws and interference with womens’ right to equal health care – assuming they can afford health insurance.

    It appears that Obama got Osama.

    Now, thanks to all these policies, republicans are effectively saying: “we created a crisis that only we know how to address.” Huh?

    It’s OK – let’s crucify public employees, who are only doing their jobs at the wages and benefits they signed up for.

    Better yet, let’s discuss all this with GW Bush at the GOP convention.

    FYI he won’t be there.

    I promise a worldwide depression if Romney is elected and anything close to the Ryan budget is adopted. By January 2014.

    Might be the death of the republican party for sheer incompetence.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 46

  38. Sonoma Coma says:

    Why can’t campaign contributions be used to compensate the BoS instead of tax payer money?

    They always seem to favor the interests of their largest donors over the tax payers anyway.

    Thumb up 32 Thumb down 8

  39. Reality Check says:

    While I doubt the board supports serious pension reform, their excuse is that any serious effort risks a lawsuit. True, but we won’t get serious reform unless political leaders are willing to risk the inevitable, a lawsuit.

    There is a (brutal) alternative approach. OK, we leave pension and health benefits alone. Instead, we reduce salaries, year by year, until we get personnel costs down to a level that enables the county to maintain its infrastructure.

    Yes, the fight would be ugly. But does anyone think serious reform will come about easily? And given that stark choice, county employees might come to their senses. But of course it will take county leaders worthy of the name.

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  40. Snarky says:

    I would simply like to point out that the state and local politicians have waited until the budget and government finances are totally out of control.

    Nice work, you moronic thieves.

    Thumb up 34 Thumb down 8

  41. Steveguy says:

    Band aids for a severed artery, and it’s getting worse.

    They knew it was unsustainable 10 years ago. Dan Walters of the Sac Bee has written about, as MANY others.

    It seems a deliberate attempt to bankrupt us, and it has worked.

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  42. Walter Reuther says:

    The Board of Supervisors themselves are vastly overpaid in comparison to similar counties. Cutting their pay by 25% would be a better example of leadership.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  43. GAJ says:

    The proposals are pathetic; it’s the 3%/year vesting that must be eliminated going forward!!!!


    And the “pay cuts” to the Supervisors are ridiculous.

    Their pay should be cut at least 40% and their pension plan eliminated entirely. Being a Supervisor should not be a career thus the position, like State Legislators, requires no pension.

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