Tuesday, April 24 , 2018, 8:17 pm | A Few Clouds 53º


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Supervisor Wolf Calls Cost of Retirement Report ‘Outrageous’

Despite her dissent, the board approves a request for an additional $65,000 to study alternatives to the county's retirement structure

The cost of a report detailing alternatives to Santa Barbara County’s dire retirement funding shortfall has raised the ire of Supervisor Janet Wolf, who called the report and its value into question on Tuesday after staff asked for the money to move forward, at a cost of as much as $65,000.

The report, formally titled “Estimated Impact of Alternative Plan Designs,” was commissioned by the county’s five-member Retirement Program Alternatives Advisory Commission to help explore how to best deal with the county’s retirement costs. The market value of total assets within the county’s retirement system is down nearly $500 million since 2007, according to an actuarial report published by the Santa Barbara County Employees’ Retirement System last summer.

At the commission’s August meeting, members requested that an actuary conduct an analysis of the county’s retirement structure.

“Actuarial services are highly specialized and technical in nature, and the retirement alternatives being explored require these specialized skills to assess the costs, savings and overall impacts associated with them,” according to a county staff report.

An initial report has been done, costing the county $20,000, but the commission requested more information, and the supervisors were asked Tuesday to set aside even more should it be needed.

“This item is concerning to me, not just because of the $65,000, but because of how it’s being presented,” Wolf told Jeri Muth, the assistant human resources director making the request.

Holding up the report, which looked to be no more than one or two pieces of paper, Wolf said she would not support more funding for additional reports without more specific information about how the money would be used.

“I find the cost of this to be outrageous,” she said. “For $65,000, that’s over 100 hours of work at $350 an hour.”

Wolf raised concerns about the cost of the report last week, and though supervisors moved forward to approve the funding Tuesday, she opposed the vote.

“We’re talking about our budget issues and budget concerns ... with the expectation that we’re going to have spend more money. I’m not willing to do that,” she told Muth. “I think this is really unfortunate — $65,000 out of our contingency reserves, for something that, to me, is not very clear.”

Not everyone on the dais shared Wolf’s concern. Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he’s concerned about the cost but that sometimes compromise is needed, adding that he had been uncomfortable with a number of things within the contract for the county’s new CEO, Chandra Wallar, but “was willing to go along with it.”

“I think work needs to be done,” Carbajal said. “We have a train coming down to Santa Barbara County. ... It’s whistling, and the tires are moving fast. We have no time to waste.”

The item passed 4-1, with Wolf dissenting.

“This is an expenditure of funds that I don’t feel comfortable expending, especially when I have no idea why this document cost us $20,000,” she said. “I’m not saying that the information in here is not important ... but before I authorize additional money, I want to know what I’m getting for that money.”

After the vote, Supervisor Joni Gray said she spent all of Monday at the Board of Retirement meeting, hearing about the board’s undertaking of an in-depth actuarial study, which happens every three years.

The actuaries are recommending, because of poor market performance, that assumed interest rates be lowered, increasing the county’s unfunded liabilities. All of this requires the county to contribute more to the retirement system, which could cost anywhere from $12 million to $30 million. 

A member of the retirement board will go before the supervisors at the Oct. 19 meeting to give a presentation on the changes.

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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