Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/01/2012 08:36:12 PM PDT

Citing concern over potentially hindering contract negotiations with labor unions and the threat of litigation, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday tabled proposed ballot measures aimed at reforming pension plans.

Supervisors Janice Rutherford and Neil Derry proposed ballot measures for the Nov. 6 election that would require voter approval of any retirement benefit increases, have employees pay more into their retirement plans, change the retirement formulas and prevent pension spiking, among other things.

The board’s concerns Wednesday centered mainly on an obligation to first meet and confer with its labor unions about the proposed changes and hindering ongoing negotiations with the unions – the San Bernardino County Safety Employees Benefit Association (SEBA) and the San Bernardino Public Employees Association (SBPEA), which represent public safety and general employees, respectively.

“We have to discuss with our employee groups any changes we want to make to the retirement system,” Rutherford said. “We would be violating that process and therefore be jeopardizing anything put outside that process. We can perhaps revisit these topics once we meet with our employees groups.”

It means taxpayers will not decide on Nov. 6 whether the county’s retirement system gets an overhaul.

Derry said he was disappointed because reforms are needed to stem the rise in the county’s retirement costs. In 2011, the county contributed $232.3 million to its retirement system, he said.

“I think the voters have a right to have a say in this,” he said. “I think we need to move now rather than later, and I didn’t see any reason for the delay.”

Rutherford is proposing, among other things, that any retirement benefit increases or changes to formulas used to determine benefits first be approved by voters.

Among Derry’s proposed reforms are changing the retirement formulas for public safety employees from 3 percent at age 50 to 2 percent. In other words, once an employee becomes eligible for retirement at 50, the annual pension benefit would be based on 2 percent of the average of the three highest paid years on the job, multiplied by the number of years on the job.

Derry also has proposed that all employees pick up the 7 percent share of what the county now pays into their pensions.

The county has been involved in exhaustive contract negotiations with SEBA’s Safety Unit, which includes sheriff’s deputies and district attorney’s investigators, since September.

Before Wednesday’s board meeting, the union agreed to the county’s recommended concessions, which included members picking up the county’s 4.72 percent contribution to their pensions and a 2 percent at 50 retirement formula for all new hires.

Current members will retain their 3 percent at 50 retirement plan, SEBA President Laren Leichliter said.

Leichliter said the bargaining unit will vote on the proposed concessions next week.

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