Nevada County could cut future benefit packages for employees | SierraSun.com

Nevada County could cut future benefit packages for employees

Dave Moller
Sun News Service

NEVADA CITY, Calif. and#8212; Fewer benefits are possible for Nevada County employees in the future after Board of Supervisors Chairman Nate Beason unexpectedly threw the concept on the table Tuesday.

and#8220;Any future contracts need second-tier benefits,” Beason said in a board discussion about 110 county employees foregoing raises to help balance the 2010-11 budget.

A two-tiered benefits package could mean new employees would see and#8220;a different retirement system not as enhancedand#8221; as the existing package, County Executive Officer Rick Haffey said.

Some jurisdictions in California and across the country are looking at fewer benefits for employees after a certain hiring date. The expanding benefits for state, county and city employees brokered by unions in California in recent years is projected to cause serious fiscal problems if not addressed.

Beason offered no specifics, but Haffey said it was good for the board chairman to make the supervisors’ thoughts public now to show employees and their bargaining units where the county might be heading.

and#8220;It would be nice if the state did this,and#8221; Haffey added.

and#8220;The state has to quit playing games,and#8221; Weston said. and#8220;They need to make the changeand#8221; in Sacramento to lower the cost of pension formulas.

Most city, county and state workers are under the PERS retirement system. Their pensions are based on 2.7 percent of their highest year’s salary, times the number of years served.

That means a hypothetical government worker making $50,000 who retires after 20 years of employment gets an annual pension of $27,000; with 30 years of employment, the pension rises to $40,500.

Law enforcement employees figure pensions based on 3 percent of their highest year’s salary.

Nevada County employees are about to enter the fourth year of a five-year contract that automatically raises salaries and benefits 2 to 4 percent annually and#8212; 13 percentage points overall.

Supervisors approved that package to attract and keep employees, Haffey said. However, the recent downturn in sales and property tax revenues have made it hard to maintain that package financially.

Overall pay and benefit hikes have totaled $11.4 million since 2007, with two more years of increases to go.

In 2007-08, county salaries and benefits rose $2.6 million when the five-year raise package went into effect, with a $180.1 million budget, according to county documents.

The 2008-09 budget saw salaries and benefits jump another $7.2 million, in a budget of $190.0 million and#8212; just as the economy began to sour.

In the current 2009-10 fiscal year, pay packages increased another $900,000, despite layoffs cutting county employees from 976 to 912 full-time employees due to reduced tax revenues. That increase was part of a $185.3 million budget.

For the coming 2010-11 fiscal year, the five-year contract calls for a 3 percent increase and#8212; with the exception of the 110 leaders who froze their salaries Tuesday, according to County Fiscal Officer Joe Christoffel. A 4 percent increase is slated for 2011-12.

The elected officials, department heads and others who turned down their pay increases were lauded by the board. Beason said board members also have done their part, with no increases in their pay in the past two fiscal years.