Sonoma County Board of Supervisors back pension cuts

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday unanimously endorsed proposed changes aimed at curtailing the county's mushrooming pension costs.

They include controls on spiking, cuts to salaries for current employees and reducing pension formulas for new employees.

"I think we are taking a good bite of the apple in this first step," Supervisor Efren Carrillo said.

The changes could save the county government about $13.4 million annually in salary and benefits costs and, in 10 years, $11.7 million in annual pension costs.

But none of the proposals will take effect unless unionized employees agree.

Ken Churchill, a Santa Rosa winemaker who has criticized pension system oversight, expressed dismay at Supervisor David Rabbitt's assertion that the proposals are as far as supervisors can legally go at this time.

After the vote, Churchill said the proposed annual cost savings are not "nearly enough" to address the county's pension problem. He contended the board would have to find $55 million in annual savings just to hold level in future years.

Also, labor groups representing county employees must agree to the changes before they can be enacted.

Ed Clites, president of the 500-member Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association, suggested to supervisors that they are not operating in good faith with his members.

Clites said after the hearing that the board's proposals amount to a "take it or leave it" proposition. However, his members will not oppose the board's plan to create a second pension tier for new public safety hires, he said.

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