SAN JOSE (KCBS) – San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said Friday exploding retirement costs will force him to put the controversial issue of pension reform before voters.

“It’s creating a crisis in our community, so we need retirement reform and we will have to engage the voters in doing it because some of the provisions would require charter changes,” he said.

Although Reed did not indicate when a pension reform measure would actually appear on a ballot, the announcement was seen as a threat by some city employee unions.

“Our members gave up 10 percent so that we could keep fire units on the streets. That’s where money’s saved. It’s not saved at the ballot box,” said Robert Sapien, president of the firefighters union.

KCBS’ Betsy Gebhart Reports:

Word of Reed’s ballot measure came as Sapien and other public safety officials briefed the city council on what they would have to cut in the next fiscal year under their smaller budgets.

The San Jose Police Department alone may have to lay off 150 officers even though the union agreed to all the concessions demanded by the city.

Sapien accused Reed of advancing a political agenda that would undermine the unions without saving San Jose taxpayers any money.

“We’re ready to start rolling up our sleeves to come up with answers to reduce costs, and the mayor proceeds towards a ballot measure that, like we learned last year, won’t really save money but will weaken unions,” he said.

“We know that his agenda is very different.”

Reed defended the push for pension reform, saying it was the only way to end layoffs and service cuts. He said the city’s pension obligations had exploded from $63 million in 2001 to more than $300 million next year.

“That’s going to devastate our city. We can’t allow that to happen,” he said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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