Published: 26 June 2012 04:36 PM

Changes to Riverside County’s public pension system should save $856 million over 10 years and after that, the system’s assets might cover its billions of dollars in liabilities, according to county officials.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, June 26, received an annual report from the Pension Advisory Review Committee, a 9-year-old panel consisting of Treasurer/Tax Collector Don Kent, finance chief Ed Corser and Human Resources Director Barbara Olivier.

The committee helps guide decisions for a system with nearly $4.875 billion in long-term liabilities for non-public safety employees. The system had $704 million in liabilities in 1994, and obligations increased every year since then.

The system’s assets — mostly stocks and bonds — are worth $4.224 billion, enough to cover 88 percent of its obligations. Corser said pension systems are considered well-funded if their assets cover 80 percent of liabilities.

Supervisors have sought pension reductions since 2010 to quell what officials said were unsustainable costs. One report warned the county’s annual pension costs could rise to $300 million — almost half what the county spends now in discretionary funds — by 2020.

Eventually, the county agreed to contracts with its labor unions that got pension reductions in exchange for pay raises. Current union members are paying more toward their retirement while new hires will get less in pension benefits.

Those changes are expected to save $856 million over 10 years, Corser said, although he acknowledged that the raises will cost more than the county saves in pensions for the first four years. The total cost of the raises was not available Tuesday.

“Bargaining units don’t just come to the table without something in return for what they’ve given,” Corser said. “But we will deal with that. That’s what we’re dealing with right now in the budget over the next few years.”

Supervisors were pleased with the pension savings. “In the view of (pension problems) statewide, I think the county of Riverside has really readjusted itself and I think we’re in pretty good shape,” said Supervisor Jeff Stone.

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