08:37 PM PST on Saturday, February 12, 2011

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone wants to put the heat on one of the county’s largest and most powerful unions.

In a proposal headed before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Stone is asking county staff to analyze public-safety pension costs and gather information about a potential ballot measure that would reduce retirement benefits.

“Without realistic pension reform, cities and counties will move toward fiscal insolvency and a disruption in public safety services that citizens demand and expect,” Stone said in his proposal released Thursday.

Without changes, annual retirement costs are expected to increase to more than $300 million by 2020, according to a county pension report.

The county is currently in contract talks with the Riverside Sheriff’s Association, and Stone’s proposal follows recent board meetings where he has urged the union to consider concessions

Stone’s chief of staff, Verne Lauritzen, said Thursday that the supervisor’s proposal is “100 percent” aimed at pressuring the association.

Association president Pat McNamara said Friday that the organization is “well aware of the many different pressure tactics being deployed by Mr. Stone and others, which are obviously intended to ‘ratchet up’ pressure at the bargaining table.”

In the item before supervisors Tuesday, Stone proposes taking pension reductions to the voters.

The changes include increasing the retirement age from 50 to 55 for public-safety employees, reducing the benefit from 3 percent for each year of service to 2 percent and requiring deputies to pick up 100 percent of their employee contribution for the lifetime of their employment.

Other changes include freezing raises and forcing all cost-of-living adjustments to go before voters for approval.

Stone wrote that the county has taken action to curb costs and has negotiated savings with other employee groups.

“It has taken awhile to get the attention of most unions,” Lauritzen said. “They want to defend their contracts and benefits, and that’s okay. But we are past that. It’s serious enough.”

McNamara said by e-mail that the association has negotiated contracts for deputies since 1970.

To read entire story, click here.