08:11 PM PDT on Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

The need for city employee pension reform is emerging as a near-consensus issue among nine Riverside council candidates in three wards, but they appear divided on other topics, such as whether a council post is a full-time job and if redevelopment should be abolished.

Candidates in wards 1, 3, and 7 debated Wednesday at Cal Baptist in an event held by the Raincross Group, Charter Communications and The Press-Enterprise. The Ward 5 seat is also on the June 7 ballot, but Councilman Chris Mac Arthur is unopposed.

Most candidates agreed that some pension changes are needed to save money, with Ward 3 challenger Jim Davis calling current benefits “the sweetest deal you can get without a gun.”

City officials have said with current benefit formulas, they project pension costs for Riverside’s 2,400 workers would grow from $45.2 million this year to $80 million by the 2013-14 fiscal year.

All four candidates in Ward 1 — Councilman Mike Gardner and challengers Dom Betro, Dvonne Pitruzzello and Marisa Valdez Yeager — agreed some reform to pensions is needed. Pitruzzello and Ward 7 challenger John Brandriff suggested the council should look to high management salaries for savings, and Betro has proposed a 10 percent pay cut for the council and top management.

Several candidates said the city should not change pensions for current employees, and Davis in Ward 3 was the only candidate to oppose a two-tiered system and suggest current workers should start contributing to their pensions.

As to whether council jobs should be full or part time, Davis and Betro unequivocally said they are not full time positions. Brandriff disagreed, saying the posts should be made full time but not necessarily with higher pay, while everyone else said the question should be decided by voters.

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