Government

Special council session to consider employee benefits

City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan

The City of Berkeley’s unfunded liability for employee pension benefits will be the focus of a special City Council work session at 5:30 p.m. before the regular council meeting next Tuesday.

In an email about the session, City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan wrote, “The City Council, City Manager, and City employees will have to take some very difficult actions. The decision makers and the community need rigorous analysis, clear communication, and realistic expectations. A commitment to collaboration can help us through these difficult times.”

The session will consider both Hogan’s November report Employee Benefits: Tough Decisions Ahead and City Manager Phil Kamlarz’s response. Hogan’s report said that the city must “reduce today’s expenses and tomorrow’s liabilities”. The auditor estimated that the city’s pension costs would rise nearly 60% between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2016. Rising medical costs and other post-retirement benefits, particularly for police employees, are also concerns. Kamlarz’s response echoes Hogan’s concerns and further notes that short-term fixes may well be required in addition to the long-term solutions advocated by Hogan.

The issues surrounding pensions and other benefits are not unique to Berkeley (although the torrent of comments to any story on the topic on Berkeleyside might suggest otherwise). Many municipalities are wrestling with similar problems, brought on in part by the rapidly escalating rates set by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) in response to the over-optimistic estimates on investment return made by CalPERS during market boom years.

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  • G

    We need a government that does not pay ANY pensions and benefits. Instead, we pay a salary so you can purchase your own insurance and pension.

    Period.

    Liberals in Berkeley cannot allow our government to go down a financial sink hole. It’s unacceptable. I will not pay a penny more in taxes that now go down this rabbit hole that in actual service.

    When you go to a restaurant and they serve 100 dollar pizza slice and say, the pizza is 3 bucks and the labor is the rest, would you fork it over?

    I think not.

    Our government is an employer, not an institution responsible for financing a so called middle class.

    Cut! Cut! Cut!

  • Zach Franklin

    While I disagree with G’s framing, I agree that we need to make major major changes to the public employee pension system and have no sacred cows in the process. It will be interesting to see whether the City Manager, Mayor, and City Council have the guts to tackle this issue head-on, or whether they focus on short-term band-aids.

  • robin wright

    What an positive and lasting impact the City Manager could have made by declining his recent pay raise. Though small in percentage, the raise alone is equal to what many unemployed workers in Berkeley are bringing in yearly. Kamlarz could have sent a strong and important message to all city employees to make small sacrifices and to quit relying on unsustainable pay and benefits paid for by resident homeowners. I wonder If Kamlarz will just pass the problem to the next city manager and laugh all the way to the bank when he collects $250K or more yearly in pension and retirement benefits.

    Our city councilmembers are gutless as well and not willing to rock the boat, though Gordon Wozniak deserves some credit for bringing up the issues of unsustainable pay and benefits for city employees in the recent past.

    If our city taxes go up much more, will we be able to afford living here even if our home is paid off one day. All I can do is vote “No” on any future city tax measures, yet the city has a way around that…. another reason for building all the new housing developments inhabited by renters who don’t see the indirect consequences for voting “Yes” on tax measures.