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Study: Healdsburg city pensions not sustainable

The current pension system for Healdsburg city employees is not sustainable.

That is spelled out plainly in the PowerPoint presentation that will be part of a City Council pension workshop on Monday.

With municipal, county and state governments across the country struggling with the weight of pension obligations, Healdsburg is not alone.

Healdsburg city officials were told in January that they face a $26 million gap for funding public employee retirements, a situation they described as "bleak" and "grim."

The estimate came from former North Bay Assemblyman Joe Nation, now a Stanford professor who has been scrutinizing government pension systems, including Healdsburg's.

A number of factors have contributed to escalating pension costs, including decreased investment earnings for pension funds and more generous benefits granted employees. While there is debate over the size of the unfunded liability, "some changes have to be made. We can't afford it," City Councilman Tom Chambers said Friday.

Without pension changes, he said, "about the only option we have is a cutback in services. That's not very good obviously. We don't want a reduction of services for people in town, and we don't want to lose employees."

On Monday, the council will hear from representatives of CalPERS, the public employee retirement system in which Healdsburg and most municipal governments participate.

The city finance director also will make a presentation on the city's pension plans.

"We want to have the latest actuarial information," Chambers said. "It's meant to be an educational opportunity for reforms and change, what you can do and can't do."

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