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Discussion Continues on County’s Retirement Costs

Public employees speak to the Board of Supervisors and challenge changes recommended by an advisory committee

The discussion continued Tuesday on how to deal with Santa Barbara County’s employee retirement costs.

The Board of Supervisors is considering a handful of options that adjust retirement age, the percentage employees can draw and what to apply to current and future employees. Adding a defined contribution element also is in the mix.

No decision was made Tuesday, and the discussion was continued to the board’s April 12 meeting.

Basic pension costs will amount to $90 million for the county’s 4,228 employees this fiscal year, and the county is looking at paying $21 million more than last year just to keep up with contributions. Because of that looming jump, a five-member advisory commission was created last summer to explore alternatives to the county’s current retirement program.

In February, the advisory committee presented several options to supervisors. The alternative that would save the county the most money would have general workers receiving 80 percent of their incomes at age 65, made up of what the county pays, Social Security and what the employee contributes. This would also require 2.5 percent of worker salaries to go toward a defined contribution plan, though it hasn’t been decided yet who would pay that 2.5 percent. A second alternative would have the same benefits starting at age 62.

Public safety employees receive the most benefits, and employees, after 30 years of service, can collect 90 percent of the income they make in their last year of work. One alternative would have public safety workers collecting 80 percent of their salaries at age 60.

Bob MacLeod of the Human Resources Department said the goal was to put a broad spectrum of options before bargaining units as they go into negotiations.

A half dozen-county employees came out Tuesday to speak during the public comment period.

Michael Collie, a Public Works employee for the county Surveyor Division, took issue with the commission’s report. He said it failed to make a point that the reforms are needed.

“The county retirement system is not in crisis,” he said, adding that massive cuts would be inappropriate right now.

George Greene of SEIU Local 620 called the advisory committee “a bunch of rich white dudes who don’t have a defined benefit pension at stake.”

He reminded the board that the average yearly salary of SEIU’s employees is about $40,000. He encouraged the county not to join the private sector, which has largely eliminated defined benefit plans.

“It’s been a race to the bottom, and you’re getting ready to join it,” he said.

Supervisor Janet Wolf was absent, so the board voted that it will take up the item next week. Those who didn’t speak Tuesday are welcome to comment at the next meeting.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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