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.