Fresno County looks for pension relief

FRESNO, Calif.

A consultant hired by the county gave them money saving options Tuesday. But it looks like the only way the county can save on retirement costs is by reducing benefits for future workers.

Fresno's County Supervisors looked at lots of charts and graphs projecting the cost of pensions, decades into the future.

They can make cuts now that may pay off later, but they are stuck with their present obligations, nearly $200 million this year. Supervisor Henry Perea blamed bad decisions made by past Boards.

"Don't blame the employees. Put the blame squarely on the elected officials the people who have made the decisions they made."

But, Supervisor Judy Case blamed the economic downturn for the loss of a billion dollars in the county's retirement fund.

"I mean we lost a huge amount of money. Did we cause it? No, it was the stock market."

But past board decisions made Fresno County's retirement system the most expensive in the state.

Tea Party member Janice Kroger told the board the public doesn't want to pay for any more.

"I think there should be no cuts to services and not tax increases to the taxpayer to continue to fund pensions that are totally unsustainable."

Fresno County currently has almost 6,000 retirees. Most are rank and file workers, many were union members. Their average benefit is around $30,000 a year. Their average age is 68.

The real money goes to retired managers and administrators and about a dozen retired Sheriff's Department Officers.

Eighty or so of these retirees receive pensions ranging from $100,000 to nearly $200,000 a year.

The Supervisors were told there is currently no legal way to cut their benefits.

The Supervisors are now looking for ways to cut the obligations to new workers, and hope to negotiate with current employees, to reduce the benefits they were promised.

Pension reform is seen as a key part of dealing with Fresno County's budget shortfall, which is estimated to range from $20 to $30 million in the coming year.

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