BOS – Take Pension Reform Seriously!

Ventura County Taxpayers Association is concerned that elected members of the Board of Supervisors and executive staff are not taking pension reform seriously. We hope it is not because they are being asked to rein in a system they benefit from.

Instead of adopting the reforms we have proposed, our elected officials continue to lavish some of California’s most generous pensions on unrepresented management, safety employees and themselves, while avoiding any action to address the county’s $1 billion unfunded pension obligation.

Elected supervisors view former CEO Marty Robinson’s pension as an “outlier” when in fact she is a symbol of an abused system in need of reform.

Robinson retired from the county with a pension of $272,460 a year — 19 percent more than her base pay — placing her in the Top 10 of all public-sector pensions in California — just above the now famous Randy Adams, police chief of the city of Bell.

The same day that voters in conservative San Diego and liberal San Jose shocked elected officials and public employees by overwhelmingly passing ballot measures severely restricting public-sector pensions, our CEO Mike Powers presented the supervisors with a shocking reality of their own — the county’s annual pension costs increased $18 million in the fiscal year just ended, and will go up another $15 million in the new fiscal year.

A two-year 25 percent cost increase in a system our supervisors call “about average.”

This week, the county Pension Board made modest changes to some assumptions which have a cumulative impact of raising the county’s unfunded pension liability from $775 million to $1 billion.

These changes will result in tens of millions in additional pension costs that CEO Powers said may not be absorbed “without cutting jobs or services.”

In his budget, Sheriff Geoff Dean points to increasing pensions as a “primary driver of increased costs” resulting in “no program increases” over the past three years. With no additional revenue, the sheriff is forced to spend increasing portions of his budget on pensions, rather than hiring replacements for retiring employees.

Only last week, the sheriff reported he was disbanding the task force that uses DNA evidence to solve cold cases because of lack of funding.

Perversely, sheriff’s deputies will receive even larger pensions as a result of actions by the Pension Board.

In possibly the most unusual agreement imaginable, labor negotiators at the county agreed to “pick up” 100 percent of each deputy’s share of pension costs that exceed 2.5 percent of pay.

The agreement calls for any increase in employee share of pension costs to be absorbed by the county, not the employee; yet, that same increase is added to the final pension calculation for the employee, increasing lifetime pensions.

There is much more to discuss and reveal to taxpayers and voters in Ventura County. We will do just that in subsequent commentaries, but one quick bit of information. In 2011, one firefighter was allowed to earn $113,000 in scheduled overtime. That one year windfall will be added to his salary and other benefits to spike his pension.

Taxpayers will be paying for that overtime every year for the rest of his life. Why does the fire chief allow that? Why do the supervisors and the CEO allow that?

The supervisors did not pass a budget in record time, they passed the buck. VCTA sees nothing in the approved budget for the supervisors to be proud about or sit back and pat themselves on the back and say we’ve addressed pension reform, or say the pension abuse problem doesn’t really exist.

We respectfully disagree with their lack of action and wonder what it will take to get them to finally take steps toward meaningful pension reform.

David P. Grau is chairman of the Ventura County Taxpayers Association board. Dick Thomson is president of the Ventura County Taxpayers Association.