<b>Tracking pension costs</b>
EDITOR: The Press Democrat has repeatedly warned of Sonoma County's pension crisis and Ken Churchill's Close to Home column ("The train wreck ahead for Sonoma County," Saturday) shows how bad the situation is if one uses realistic accounting: $1.6 billion of outstanding pension debt, plus the need to be spending more on pensions than we collect in property taxes.
Unfortunately few have any idea how much, if any, meaningful progress has been made on pension reform.
Something simple like a big, red fundraising thermometer is needed. To create it, county supervisors should invite taxpayers with financial and business skills to establish a level of total compensation (salary plus pension plus benefits) for county employees that is fair relative to what folks are paid in the private sector and sustainable in terms of tax receipts and other needs.
They should use this thermometer to show where we are relative to where we need to be, and then measure the effectiveness of any reforms using this "thermometer." Why? Because some reforms such as reducing pensions for new hires give the illusion of progress — thus reducing the pressure to do more — but actually have little impact. And of course the paper should publish it periodically, perhaps on the weather page.
EDITOR: Even before the catastrophe at Sandy Hook, I have shivered inwardly every time I saw a gun ad in The Press Democrat. Most of the time, they appear in the sports section, but sometimes they pop up in the Home and Garden section. They offer hunting rifles but also side arms that no person in Sonoma County has need of.
At first, I thought of going to the store and urging them to desist from selling guns that are used to kill people, but I felt that they would not give me the time of day.