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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.

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