Pensions dominate Healdsburg City Council race

If there's a consensus in the Healdsburg City Council race, it's that more needs to be done to rein in the cost of employee pensions.

The two incumbents seeking re-election, Tom Chambers and Gary Plass, say they've made inroads by instituting less generous retirement packages for new employees and getting current workers to pay more toward their pension programs.

"I do believe we've made some pretty good progress. We haven't gotten to where we need to," said Chambers.

"We've got a great start," said Plass of chipping away at pension obligations and getting employees to pay a share of their medical plans.

But the incumbents bristle at criticism from challengers who say the savings that comes from implementing a second tier of cheaper pensions for future employees will take years to realize, and do little to address the shortfall for when current employees retire.

"I'm not saying it's the end all, be all. It's the beginning. You don't get anything done without starting somewhere," Plass said.

Three seats are on the Nov. 6 election ballot and one of the incumbents, Steve Babb, chose not to run again.

The four non-incumbents in the race — Dennis Brown, Shaun McCaffery, Tim Meinken and Vern Simmons — have all raised the pension issue.

The challengers have ideas that include getting current employees to contribute still more, raising the retirement age, and moving toward 401(k)-style retirement plans rather than defined benefit plans that promise a fixed payment for life.

But the incumbents point out that there are legal limits to what the city can do because of CalPERS, the state employment retirement system to which city employees belong.

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