Restructuring pension plans offered to public employees came under focus Wednesday as cities and the county grapple with less revenue and escalating costs.
A panel discussion was held as Gov. Jerry Brown announced his intent to release details today for reforming the public employee pension system at the state level.
The morning forum, sponsored by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, included managers from the county and the city of San Luis Obispo, a lobbyist with the League of California Cities and the head of the largest local employee union.
The Board of Supervisors led the way in San Luis Obispo County earlier this year when it created a two-tiered pension plan for county employees.
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Eighty-five percent of the county’s roughly 2,300 jobs are now included in a two-tier pension system, said Jim Grant, county administrative officer.
“Every 1 percent of salary savings equals $2 million for us,” said Grant.
The county expects to save up to $20 million a year decades from now as employees hired under the new plan retire.
The change is one being seen across the state, said Natasha Karl, a lobbyist with the League of California Cities.
A survey done by the league in January 2011 showed that 22 percent of 296 cities that responded to the survey have already adopted a new pension tier.
In addition, 38 percent of those cities have also implemented a plan that relies on employees paying more for their pensions.
“There is a significant trend toward asking employees to pick up more of the costs,” said Karl.
In San Luis Obispo County, the cities of Atascadero, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles have already negotiated similar changes.
San Luis Obispo is currently negotiating with its employee groups to do the same. All San Luis Obispo employees are being asked to take a nearly 7 percent cut in their overall compensation — which includes benefits and pay — to help balance the city’s budget.
The City Council wants to cut $3.1 million annually from employee costs — or 6.8 percent per employee.
Part of that savings will be realized by asking employees to pay their full retirement contributions.
City Manager Katie Lichtig said those concessions are being asked equitably of all employees.
“We are not seeking additional contributions from certain employee groups,” said Lichtig.
The city is also working toward creating a two-tier pension plan to reduce the retirement costs of future employees.
Kimm Daniels, the general manager of the San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Association, said that there is often a misconception about the benefits that employees receive.
Daniels said that county employees have long been willing to help reduce costs.
“Having the folks that I represent laid off doesn’t make any sense,” said Daniels. “We understand the county is experiencing a revenue shortfall and we must share in that pain.”
Daniels, who represents about 1,600 employees, said that public employees only want what she called a fair pension.
“Knowing you have a secure future is critically important,” said Daniels.
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.