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Brown's pension overhaul could apply to cities, counties

Published: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 9:56 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 9:56 a.m.

The details remain murky, but local government officials in Sonoma County said Tuesday it appears Gov. Jerry Brown's pension deal will have an impact on local workers.

The City of Santa Rosa expects to get clarification today from its attorneys specializing in pension issues, but the plan appear to affect not just state workers but future municipal workers, said Human Resources Director Fran Elm.

“It can't affect existing workers, but it could affect new hires,” Elm said.

A release from the governor's office refers to the changes as “unilaterally” rolling back retirement ages and formulas for “local miscellaneous employees” and “local fire and police employees.”

That means the state would be requiring even lower pension benefits for new workers than the “second-tier' benefits that took effect in Santa Rosa July 1.

Instead of being able to retire at age 50 with 3 percent of salary for ever year of service — known as 3 percent at 50 — workers hired by Santa Rosa after July 1 get 3 percent at 55. Brown's plan lowers that standard further to 2.7 percent at 57.

Similarly, non-public safety workers, called miscellaneous employees, once received get 3 percent at 60, but the new second tier dropped that to 2.5 percent at 55 for new hires. Brown's plan would make workers wait until 67 to get full benefits.

Allan Schellerup, president of the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association, said the governor has the power to make changes affecting new state workers, but doubts he could impose such changes without bargaining with the local unions who would represent those future workers.

“We're several steps removed from him being able to get to us,” Schellerup said.

Jack Thomas, president of Santa Rosa Firefighters IAFF Local 1401, said the union was “deciphering all the information and trying to figure out how it affects our employees at this time.”

Part of the problem is the governor's public statement doesn't make clear distinctions between which public employees - state, municipal or county — would be affected by which changes.

Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt said he believes many of the governor's changes will affect the county. Many county government retirement systems, including Sonoma's, operate separately from massive state Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS.

But he said he couldn't be certain because only one bullet point in the governor's statement refers specifically to county plans, one giving them more ability to deal with pension spiking.

“It does look like it moves things in the direction that we were seeking,” Rabbitt said. “It does allow us additional flexibility.”

Whether and how certain provisions, such as the cap on pensions above $110,000, would be applied locally remained unclear, he said. The county hasn't been seeking caps on pension, but rather is proposing to reduce soaring costs through salary reductions, anti-spiking provision and other measures.

“Hopefully, by tomorrow afternoon, we've have much more clarity,” Rabbitt said.

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