Marin County Cities Launch Pension Reform Efforts

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(CBS/AP)

SAN RAFAEL (KCBS) – Elected officials from throughout Marin County have joined together in an effort to address the pressing issue of pension reform – something that is impacting towns and cities throughout the county.

In short, a number of communities there, like so many of their Bay Area counterparts, are struggling to meet the increasing costs. Locally elected leaders hope a county-wide committee will be able to brainstorm solutions.

Ultimately, the committee is expected to recommend a number of changes in the near future.

KCBS’ Susan Kennedy Reports:

One of the biggest problems: a majority of the cities’ pensions are invested in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), and because of the major loss of investment earnings in 2008 and 2009, the portfolios have been hit hard.

“We’re spending so much on pensions and it’ll only increase,” warned Novato city councilwoman Jeanne MacLeamy. “Cities are having to reduce services in order to pay pension benefits. So it’s not healthy for the cities and it’s going to take a real toll, I think, on some of our jurisdictions.”

“It never was something where the public was expected to pay for the whole retirement,” added Larkspur mayor and committee chair Larry Chu. “It’s evolved to that point and that’s why we’re looking at some element of sharing the cost as well as the risk.”

Specifically, Chu expects that the committee, which includes some form of representation from all eleven Marin County cities, will propose reforms including cutting benefits, increasing employee contributions, and utilizing private sector type of retirement plans.

“Our hands are quite tied in respect to a lot of things,” he acknowledged, “because they have either dependency on laws changing or that you need a willing partner on the other side.”

Because reform will ultimately have to happen at the bargaining table, MacLeamy is banking on a collaborative effort with employees and their unions.

“We really want to sit down and work this out so it’s fair but going forward we have to have a sustainable system,” she suggested.

Absent pension reform, cities will be forced to continue cutting services.

“Just not able to keep up with the cost of pensions,” she warned. “They’re going to have to make dramatic changes.”

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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