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:
* Applying a 2 percent-at-60 formula, meaning a pension of 2 percent of salary for each year of service with full eligibility at age 60. The current SMART plan is 2 percent at 55.
* Calculating pension on base salary, thus excluding specialty pay and unused vacation, sick time and administrative pay that can spike pension benefits.
* Using the average of the final three years' salary to compute pensions, further limiting the spiking that can occur in plans that use the single highest year.
* Requiring employees and the agency to split, 50-50, the costs of annual contributions to CalPERS and all future cost increases.
The equal-sharing provision is a key departure from most public pension plans in California. Typically, taxpayers bear the entire burden of investment risks, such as what occurred with the sudden drop in pension portfolios that began in 2008. Those losses have been a key factor in the rising annual costs of local government pensions.
The SMART plan also includes a cost-of-living increase of up to 2 percent a year for retirees and a match, up to 2 percent, of the employee's salary into a deferred compensation plan.
The new positions and base salaries include: Human resources manager, $115,000; information systems manager, $126,500; access control manager, $100,000; assistant civil engineer, $70,000; two junior engineers, $60,000; administrative/fiscal analyst, $65,000; operations manager, up to $216,910; information systems specialist, $115,000; and two marketing specialists, each at $80,000.