Why increase PERS benefits for deputies?

If you read yesterday’s Union Democrat editorial, you’re likely scratching your head that I voted in favor of granting jail deputies and probation officers 3% at 50 PERS retirement benefits with the economy in shambles and the county budget headed for significant state and federal funding cuts. 

My vote seems to go against many comments I’ve made on the budget and the economy. It makes absolutely no sense without just a little more information than the paper had room to print. So here it is:

  • The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors legally obligated itself in 2006 to give deputies, including Probation and jail deputies, the 3% at 50 plan. The way it works is that labor agreements are negotiated and agreed to in advance, but the budgetary allocation of funds to pay for what has been agreed upon is made in the year it is scheduled to be implemented. The Board agreement was made before I took office. My vote was to implement the Board’s obligation, not to approve a recently negotiated additional benefit.
  • Sheriff’s deputies already got the 3% at 50 plan. Probation and jail deputies hadn’t yet. My yes vote supported bringing their benefits in line with those of regular Sheriff’s deputies.
  • Law enforcement personnel for the county has been significantly underpaid for a long time and staffing was down to critical levels. The Sheriff had trouble keeping deputies and attracting new ones. You told me in large numbers that law enforcement is a top priority. Changes in compensation over the last 3 years (and adding several new positions this year) have helped with retention and recruitment and will allow us to address some public safety concerns.  We must compensate law enforcement adequately if we want deputies on the streets and at the same time make sure we don’t overburden an already constrained budget. It’s a balancing act. Just so you know, in that spirit the Board recently negotiated a new one-year contract with deputies that only minimally increases compensation and won’t take effect until next July.
  • County employees for the most part are extremely hardworking and deserving of their pay, but local governments have painted themselves into a corner by paying salaries and pension benefits they can’t afford over time. Given the current economy and fiscal outlook:
    • We should avoid further raises and retirement plan enhancements until the economy and our budget will support them. Our focus should be on maintaining services and keeping existing jobs now.
    • For new hires, defined-contribution pension plans (employer contributes to or matches employee contributions to an IRA or other retirement account) should replace defined-benefit pension plans (employee receives an agreed upon amount of retirement income for the balance of his/her lifetime).

The Union Democrat editorial board is right to worry about a PERS economic time bomb, if not immediately, eventually. California public agency retirees with PERS pensions will be wise to have contingency plans. The County should look at this issue soon.

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I like going places: out West, west of the West, and all the way around the back of the globe to the East. I like to go by train, plane, automobile, horseback. Whatever. And I like writing about what I see, feel, hear, smell, and touch all along the way and once I get there.

12 thoughts on “Why increase PERS benefits for deputies?

  1. Its kind of like the deputy situation. Compare their wages to that of an Orange County deputy. In this case again they both do just about the same amount of work

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  2. Teri,

    In the future, if you are faced with approving prior board actions abstain. Allow members of prior boards [like Dick Pland] approve the measure(s); they can be responsible for their legislative-actions. You don't need to put yourself on the line.

    Increasing expenditure, for some necessary items can be justified via public priority or development of prudent policy [defended by clear and rigorous reasons] despite revenue cuts. Fiscal responsibility does not require cutting every item nor maintaining spending for every item [unless public and board are value neutral.]

    Fiscal responsibility requires a balanced budget [spending within means] and deficit spending if there is a positive net-present value for investment [cost of borrowing is lower than its benefits.] The goal of deficit spending is to increase social and community utility [benefit/use.]

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    1. Although I’ve abstained before on other similar issues, it didn’t even occur to me to do so this time. Why?

      It was clear that the Board had a legally binding contract to honor. It was also clear that Sheriff’s deputies had already received the benefit while others had not (jail deputies and Probation officers). It was clear that our previous pay scale for deputies was not helping us recruit and retain and that we had committed to a path of changing that. Finally, it was clear because I have done significant public outreach on this that public safety is one of the most important priorities to Tuolumne County residents. Together, those facts brought me to the conclusion that the yes vote was the right thing to do.

      That’s not to say that I won’t abstain for the reasons you stated in the future. I’ll evaluate each decision and decide on its merits. Thanks, Brandon!

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  3. Balancing a budget is about trade offs. Reason and public priority [formed by public participation] can define the values that structure and situate trade offs. If the public wants more law enforcement certain steps are needed to satisfy that desire. The public may have to pay more in taxes or cut spending [they have to give something up.] Deficit spending is popular, for political officials, because it allows them to reward constituents with high service for low cost [in the short term.] There really are trade-offs… they just get pushed into the future. Financial prudence and responsibility requires leadership and informing the public that they have to give something up now to get what they want so they don't have to give up MORE in the future to get what they want "in the here and now." I hope my comment(s) help

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    1. I always appreciate your thoughtful input. As you know, the county is required to maintain a balanced budget – no deficit spending. So if we can’t afford it and folks don’t want to tax themselves, the money has to come from cuts to other programs. And deficit spending is only popular with some politicians, by the way. 🙂 Thanks and Merry Christmas, Brandon!

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    1. I understand where you are coming from, Brandon. Don’t worry about my feelings – my skin is getting thicker and thicker all the time! 🙂 Seriously, I really appreciate your desire to engage in these discussions on the issues. In fact, it’s refreshing, whether we agree or not, that you speak your mind. I won’t always agree with you, but often I do! 🙂

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  4. We need to support ALL our county emergency services personnel, the Deputies and our VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS AND TCFD. Good Job Teri.

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    1. Thanks, I agree! A friend just sent me an article on the many issues that are impacting 911 systems and emergency workers too. Figuring out a solution to the public safety issues in the Hwy 108 corridor is on my list this year. I’m not sure what the solution is yet, but we’ve got to address some issues including the shrinking number of volunteer firefighters… It’s on the Board’s draft list of goals that we will be discussing this Tuesday. I plan to advocate for keeping it there and working on a solution this year. Thanks for commenting and for your support!

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