Fresno County public pension plan under attack

FRESNO, Calif.

At issue is what to do with ballooning pension costs for retiring county employees.

It's estimated that this summer, Fresno County's annual retirement bill will jump 30% to $180 million.

The issue prompted many county residents to get involved.

Fresno County Supervisors have cut, they've furloughed, and they've cut some more. But now they are asking for help when it comes to solving its current pension crisis.

Right now, 44% of the county's payroll budget is spent on pension pay-outs, and that number is projected to skyrocket beginning in July.

Supervisors invited the public to put in their two-cents worth Wednesday. Many told the board, the county can no longer afford to pay out pensions at the current rate.

Phyllis Lo Forti, a Fresno County resident said, "I don't like to see people's families torn apart, but we can't continue to keep a ship together that is millions of dollars in the hole, we can't do it."

Her husband, Vernon Lo Forti said, "They're asking too much when you get 98% of your salary and get somebody else to pay for it."

Kevin Smith, the Fresno County Employees Union Representative said, "We know the budget's bad. The problem we run into is they always want to blame it on the employees and our negotiated contracts."

Smith says his members have agreed to furlough days and pay cuts, and are ready to negotiate future pension payouts. But Roberto Pena, the administrator of the county's pension fund says retirement pay-outs are not the sole source of the problem.

Pena said, "They are in the situation they are for many reasons. But I think it's a little far-fetched to say the cost of the pension plan is the reason that it's bankrupting a particular entity."

According to Pena, a poor economy and a decreased tax base has made money matters worse.

Many counties across the country are cutting benefits for new employees ... Fresno County may have to do the same.

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