Pension Payments on Uniforms Don’t Wear Well in Buena Park

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At least two members of Buena Park City Council are ready to stand up to an order by the California Public Employees Retirement System to increase its pension payments for employees who receive uniforms from the city.

Everyone realizes that CalPERS faces huge deficits, but this is going too far, the council members say.

“I have a problem with this,” Councilman Jim Dow said at last week’s council meeting. “We’re going to pay retirement benefits on uniforms. It’s crazy.”

Finance Director Sung Hyun said the issue arose when CalPERS conducted a “routine exam” of the city’s books.

“The last time we were audited was 12 years ago,” Hyun said. “As part of their review, [CalPERS] noted that we provided uniforms to our workers.”

Hyun said according to an “obscure section” of CalPERS regulations, the uniforms were found to be “PERSable compensation.”

In other words, CalPERS determined that the value of the uniforms should be included when calculating an employee’s salary for pension purposes. The result was that it ordered the city to pay an additional $26 a year for each employee who receives a uniform, a total cost of about $1,700 per year.

Dow was not alone in his stance against the CalPERS demand.

“Somebody’s got to put their foot down and say something,” Smith said. “I think they just found a loophole to collect more money. Twenty six dollars per year sounds like nothing, but it could get carried away.”

Councilwoman Patsy Marshall also opposed the increase, but said the council should wait to act until city staffers have determined the consequences of violating the order.

Hyun said staffers are looking into the issue but have not come up with an answer yet.

“We’re working on that right now with our labor advisors and attorney,” he said.

The absence of Councilman Don McCay left the council with a 2-2 split over how to handle the order. Smith and Dow hoped to continue discussions. Marshall and Mayor Art Brown wanted to wait for more information.

After deadlocking on several failed votes, Smith sided with Marshall and Brown in favor of tabling discussion until the next meeting.


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