10:55 PM PDT on Tuesday, May 31, 2011

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County’s request for retirement and health benefits concessions from its two biggest employee groups is facing resistance, leaving county administrators to look at making an additional $30 million in cuts instead.

The San Bernardino County Safety Employees Benefits Association informed the county Friday that it would not agree to a plan to trim health and retirement benefits, said Laren Leichliter, president of the union representing 3,100 public safety employees, including sheriff’s deputies.

Leichliter said the union offered to suspend pay raises for the next three years but the county was not willing to consider any alternatives to the proposal made by County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux.

“They’re going in already saying we need these three or four things and there’s no budging off of that,” Leichliter said.

“That’s not a negotiation.”

But county spokesman David Wert said officials are willing to talk about anything, but the offer by the union does not make the structural reforms needed to solve the county’s ongoing budget problems.

“The county isn’t locked into those particular solutions,” he said. “What the county is locked into is real savings.”

The county is facing a $46.2 million budget gap for the next fiscal year that is expected to grow to $122.5 million over five years, Devereaux said at a budget workshop last month.

His proposal suggested $29.3 million in service cuts that relied on $30 million in savings from employees agreeing to health and retirement benefits cuts.

The Board of Supervisors will hold another budget workshop next week.

The concessions he seeks include discontinuing a 7 percent county contribution to employee retirement benefits, cutting annual merit increases in half and eliminating a monthly medical subsidy allowance.

Last month, the union representing firefighters agreed to give up the benefits while the county imposed the same changes to about 550 mostly management employees.

However, the county agreed to impose the cuts only if all other employee groups agree to the concessions as well.

Without those savings, the county would have to make a total of $59.3 million in cuts, with public safety and SEBA members the most at-risk for cuts, Wert said.

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