Riverside County Board of Supervisor Chairman Bob Buster speaks during the second annual State of Riverside County event at the Riverside Convention Center on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011. (STAN LIM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)


Duane Gang
Published: 11 October 2011 01:51 PM

Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster said Tuesday the county faces its toughest ever budget year and that overcoming an $80 million gap will require sacrifices among elected leaders and county employees.

During the second annual State of the County event, Buster, the board’s chairman, renewed his call for changes in the county’s retirement system. Requiring employees to pay into their own pensions is “fair and reasonable” and will do the most to avoid potential layoffs.

“Saving these jobs can only be done through common sacrifice among all of us — all 18,000 county employees,” Buster said. “The sooner we start paying into our pensions and put all new hires under a lower pension formula, the more of our fellow workers’ jobs we can save.”

Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster supports pension changes. Do you?
Yes. Something must be done to fix the budget.Tweaks are acceptable – but a two-tier system is out of the question.No. Public employees are entitled to their retirement plan.

Buster, who has been on the board since 1993, has dealt with 19 county budgets. This year’s, he said, is the most difficult, not only from dropping revenues but because of successive years of budget cuts. Nonpublic safety departments have had about 35 percent of their budgets cut over the past two years, Buster said.

“This budget is more than an exercise in arithmetic,” he said. “It’s harder because reserves are at a bare minimum, having been drained to shore up public safety functions. It’s harder because the clock is running out. Employee jobs are at stake.”

The State of the County event, held this year at the Riverside Convention Center, is designed to showcase the county’s accomplishments and outline what lies ahead. The board chairman delivers the keynote speech. Hundreds of elected officials, business leaders and county employees attended.

In recent years, Riverside County has struggled to balance ongoing expenses with declining property tax revenues. Discretionary revenue, which funds basic services such as fire and police protection, has dropped by $200 million since fiscal 2006-2007.

The budget supervisors adopted last month is balanced with the use of $28 million in reserves and another $51 million in other one-time funding, a formula county officials have said is unsustainable. The gap for the fiscal year starting July 1 is estimated at $80 million.

Buster has long supported changing the county’s retirement system. A second tier of lower benefits for newly hired workers could save the county as much as $200 million over the next decade.

And requiring county employees to pay toward their own retirements now could save more than $20 million each year, officials have said. County employee unions contend any such move must first be negotiated.

Currently, general county workers pay 8 percent of their salary toward retirement for the first five years of employment. After that, taxpayers pick up the tab, along with the county’s employer contribution. Public-safety employees pay 9 percent for the first three years of employment.

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