It’s Official: Supervisors Will Now Pay Into Their Own Pension Funds

OC Supervisors 2013 - Wide Shot (p)

The Orange County Board of Supervisors. (Nick Gerda / Voice of OC)

Following the lead of their rank-and-file workers, managers and attorneys, county supervisors voted Tuesday to end taxpayer “pick ups” of their own employee share of pension costs.

The change also could be locked in place for all future supervisors if voters approve a ballot initiative in June, which the supervisors set in motion Tuesday.

The 5-0 votes came without much fanfare after being proposed by supervisors Todd Spitzer and Janet Nguyen.

It comes after years of criticism from labor groups that supervisors have wanted county workers to pay their full employee shares while not doing so themselves.

“They’re slapping themselves on the backs for something they’ve had their employees do for years," said Nick Berardino, general manager for the Orange County Employees Association. "If anything, we should be asking, 'What took you so long?' ”

Yet supervisors didn't discuss much about their new policy on pension contributions at all during this week's meeting, only going through the procedural aspects of adopting the new policy.

A staff report on the item before supervisors was light on details. It didn’t include projected savings for taxpayers nor what share of their pension costs the supervisors will now be paying.

For example, County Supervisor John Moorlach’s pension formula is 2.7 percent of pay for each year of service and is available as early as 55 years old, with Spitzer and Nguyen at 1.62 percent at 65.

Chairman Shawn Nelson and Supervisor Pat Bates aren't in the county’s pension system.

Since July 1, Moorlach has been paying his employee share to the county as a charitable contribution, said county spokeswoman Jean Pasco.

But starting with the next round of paychecks, supervisors’ contributions will be pretax deductions, like those for a 401(k) retirement plan, said Pasco.

Moorlach asked that the county’s top attorney mention the state’s new pension reform law in the ballot measure’s official analysis to voters.

The law, commonly known as PEPRA, would already require the supervisors to pay their full employee share starting in a few years, Moorlach suggested.

Later in the meeting, Spitzer criticized the way that Moorlach introduced his charitable contribution approach in June — in between the budget’s public hearing and its adoption.

After leaning about the mechanics of Moorlach's contributions approach, Spitzer had asserted that it “doesn’t seem lawful.”

Spitzer said Tuesday that the June item “wasn’t well explained” to supervisors and he was “taken aback” when informed later that it was actually a pension item rather than a policy on giving to charities like the United Way.

“I was put in one of those very uncomfortable situations that you do not want to be in as an elected, when you get a call about something you voted on … but because you thought it was one thing and it turned out to be another you really do look like you weren’t well-prepared,” said Spitzer.

He asked that going forward, staff reports for the final budget approval include a special section about items added since the public budget hearing.

“I just don’t want to get caught off guard. I don’t think that’s good practice,” said Spitzer.

The ballot initiative – if passed by voters – would cover all countywide elected officials.

Supervisors didn't publicly discuss from the dais this week whether other countywide elected officials - such as the sheriff, district attorney, assessor, auditor-controller, clerk-recorder or treasurer-tax collector - should join them in the interim, immediately paying the employee portion of their annual pension payment to the retirement system.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the text of the measure approved for the ballot would require all countywide elected officials to pay the employee portion of their annual pension payment. This story also has been updated to reflect the pension benefit tier for Supervisor John Moorlach. His pension benefit is 2.7 at 55.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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