The two challengers trying to unseat Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo both say the current Board of Supervisors has been too slow in dealing with the current pension crisis.
Former Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, who is vying for his old 5th District seat, said the board already should have kick-started its pension overhaul efforts with non-union county managers, and that all county employees, including public safety workers, should make pension concessions.
"The point is they have to get started," Carpenter said. "Where they start might be a question of strategy."
Veronica Jacobi, a former Santa Rosa city councilwoman, said scaling back pension benefits for new county employees alone would not likely solve the mounting pension crisis. Current employees, she said, are going to have to give up something.
But pension change should begin with county managers and supervisors themselves, she said.
"How does one ask for concessions without giving," she said. "When one is making more than $100,000 and expecting someone that's making $40,000 or less to make concessions — I think that's immoral."
Carrillo defended the board's efforts to control rising pension costs.
"It's easy in the context of a campaign to make a lot of grandiose claims of what they will do and how fast they will do it," he said.
He said the board has been "aggressively demanding answers from county staff about what the law will allow us to do," and he believes the county <NO1><NO>leadership should and will set an example through their own concessions.
Carrillo would not give specific targets for such measures as benefit caps, saying he did not want to negatively affect current negotiations.
The changes the county is pursuing in labor negotiations and revisions to state law include capping pension amounts and scaling back pension spiking, reducing pension formulas and raising the retirement age for future employees.
The county also is seeking seeks to cut salaries for the entire workforce by 3 percent, as well as add four more Board of Supervisors appointees to the pension system board to increase public oversight of the system.
Supervisors are part of the pension system, and if Carrillo is elected to a second four-term, he would be vested and eligibile for retirement benefits after five full years of service.
Carpenter, who served 16 years as supervisor before retiring in 1997, <NO1><NO>receives an annual county retirement of about $18,000. <NO1><NO>If elected, he has two basic choices. He <NO1><NO>could <NO1><NO>continue to collect his retirement pay <NO1><NO>along with his new salary of $134,000. <NO1><NO>Or he could suspend his current <NO1><NO>pension and <NO1><NO>begin accruing service credit towards a second pension based on the pay and benefit provisions in his new term of office.
<NO1><NO>Jacobi's proposals include eliminating pension spiking; capping benefits at possibly $100,000 or $90,000, which she says is sufficient in most cases; negotiating or, if necessary, imposing a two-tier pension system that gives employees reduced benefits compared to current employees.
The caps and lower tier benefits would "certainly" affect all new employees, she said. But, recognizing that the impact of such measures would not bear fruit until a later time, Jacobi said that "for existing employees we need to do something."
She suggested giving current employees "some warning" so they can make the necessary career change. She said she would be open to look at a 401(k)-style alternative to the current benefits plan.