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Council Gives Final OK (9-0) To Boost City Hall Employee Pensions

LB taxpayers will pay roughly $7 million annually starting 2004 in exchange for non public safety employee unions accepting no pay raise this year & 3% raise next yr.

(July 16, 2002) -- Following a similar vote last week with two outgoing Councilmembers, the City Council with two new members voted 9-0 tonight to increase pensions for City Hall non public safety employees.

The ordinance received its first reading last week as the last voted act joined by outgoing Councilmembers Ray Grabinski and Jerry Shultz. Tonight's Council vote, giving the implementing ordinance its legally required second reading, was one of the first votes cast by newly arrived Councilmembers Tonia Reyes-Uranga and Val Lerch. Like last week's Council vote, it was also 9-0.

The vote was eclipsed by the Council's main media event: inauguration ceremonies at the Council meeting for the Mayor, City Attorney, City Prosecutor, City Auditor and Councilmembers for the 1st, 3d, 5th, 7th and 9th Council districts. This was followed by a 9-0 vote to elect 3d district Councilman Frank Colonna Vice Mayor with no other names in nomination.

The pension item was called after a Council recess and passed within a few seconds with no public opposition.

The Council votes mean LB taxpayers will begin paying roughly $6.9 million per year starting in October 2004 while receiving money saving agreements with five public employee unions for no pay raise this year and a 3% raise next year.

The management negotiated, Council OK'd arrangement with CA's Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS, created by state legislators for government employees with benefits more generous than Social Security) means roughly 3,900 city employees can retire with 2.7% of their annual salary at age 55, multiplied by the number of years worked for City Hall. (Previously, the multiplier was 2% age 55 or 2.4% at age 63. The new pension arrangement also lets non public safety employees collect 2% (up from 1.4%) of their salary at age 50.

The "average" non public safety employee pension (average of lowest and highest paid city employees) would be $52,000 (average salary) x 2.7% x 22 years (average length of employment) = $30,888. However, the same formula allows a $100,000 a year City Hall employee who works 30 years to collect an $81,000 annual pension ($100,000 x 2.7% x 30 years).

In November, 2001 the Council voted (6-1, Baker dissenting, Batts absent entire meeting, Grabinski absent on vote, reappearing 60 seconds thereafter) to raise City Manager Taboada's salary (with deferred compensation) to nearly $200,000 a year. Taxpayer advocates warned at the time this would lead to raises for subordinate staff with inevitable pension increases.

The pension chain of events was set in motion in Sacramento, when the CA legislature (Assembly and CA Senate) voted to approve, and the Governor signed, a bill permitting (but not requiring) cities to pay the more generous CalPERS pensions. LB City Hall's contracts with non public safety employees contained "re-open" provisions if the Governor signed such a bill...and the unions moved to do exactly that.

Bill Storey, LB City Hall's Human Resources Director, told that city management moved to negotiate agreements with five non public safety employee unions that will result in LB taxpayers saving money over the next two years because the covered employees agreed to receive no pay raise in the current year and a 3% raise in the next year.

The Council's voted increase for non public safety pensions is in addition to a previously voted Council increase in pensions for public safety employees. Police and firefighters can now collect a pension of 3% of their final salary, times years of employment starting at age 50. The new public safety pensions could prompt police level retirements in the coming months, further depleting LB's thin police level.

The new non public safety pensions may likewise trigger retirements, producing some salary savings (new hires are at lower rates) or elimination of positions (less cost but less available personnel).

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