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SMART approves scaled-down pension plan

Directors of the SMART rail district approved a pension plan Wednesday for new workers with much lower benefits than those received by current workers.

The new plan comes as the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency expects to hire about 100 workers over the next 12 to 18 months.

"This is the stingiest, the most conservative and the cost-conscious we can have," said General Manager Farhad Mansourian.

Directors also approved 11 new positions, which will add $1 million a year to SMART's budget for salaries and benefits. The district said the cost will be $500,000 cheaper than having the same work done by consultants, as it is now.

Those workers will be the first to be covered by the new pension plan, which takes effect June 1.

"We are setting a new bar, we are addressing a difficult issue, we are a role model for other agencies," said Windsor Mayor Deborah Fudge.

Public employee pensions have become highly controversial because of rapidly escalating costs that burden tax-supported agencies, often forcing the curtailment of other services.

SMART workers are covered by CalPERS, the state's largest public pension fund.

By law, SMART's 18 current employees will continue with their existing plan, which provides more expansive benefits.

Highlights of the plan for new workers include:

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