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PD Editorial: Permanent savings in county pacts

  • The Sonoma County administration building. (The Press Democrat)

Sonoma County's new labor contracts contain sustainable cost-saving measures consistent with promises of more balance between spending on public services and overhead costs.

The agreements, ratified Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, include a projected $19.7 million in payroll savings through 2015.

In addition, the county expects to save $115 million in pension expenses over 10 years — more than three-quarters of the goal of $150 million set by the Board of Supervisors.

If those figures are realized, credit goes to the supervisors for pushing hard for permanent savings and also to county employees for making the necessary concessions.

Until now, the county has relied largely on layoffs and furloughs to address budget deficits. The results have been short-term savings, and the side effects have included longer waits for public service, especially with county offices closed for 10 days at Christmas time.

To achieve some permanent savings, the new contracts include several overdue reforms to pay and pension policies. Among them are:

• Reduced retirement payments for anyone hired after Jan. 1, 2013.

• Ending the practice of cashing out unused vacation, sick leave and comp time at retirement. This has added an average of 12 percent to pensions for county workers.

• Eliminating employer-paid employee retirement fund contributions.

• Employees won't accrue comp time when a holiday falls on their regular day off.

• Floating holidays cannot be cashed out.

• Reducing or eliminating various pay premiums.

• Eliminating a 5 percent bonus for department heads who give a year's notice before retiring.

Most of these perks and benefits are unknown to private-sector employees, but they are common in government service.

In return for these concessions, county workers will get a larger contribution toward health insurance. In October of 2014, they will get a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment, their first since 2008. A 2 percent COLA will follow in July of 2015.

The new contracts cover the county's largest, and generally lowest paid, bargaining unit as well as some of the county's best-paid employees — department directors, managers and other supervisor personnel.

Still to be negotiated are new contracts with 10 other bargaining units, including those representing deputy sheriffs, correctional officers and prosecutors.

The supervisors will need to bargain as hard with these groups as they did with Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union if they're going to achieve the rest of their cost-saving goals.

As Supervisor Susan Gorin said during Tuesday's meeting, “We've only achieved 77 percent of the savings. We still have work to do.”

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