Riverside County supervisors debated pension changes on Tuesday.

Published: 04 October 2011 09:55 PM

Riverside County supervisors said Tuesday that county employees must start contributing more toward their own retirements, a move that would translate into immediate, long-term savings for the cash-strapped county.

Supervisor Marion Ashley said that it was an error for the county to pick up the employee share of retirement costs.

“A prior board made a huge mistake,” Ashley said. “The county was rolling in money and the future looked bright.”

But times are different now, he said, as the county struggles to balance ongoing expenses with revenue. The county faces an estimated $80 million budget gap for next fiscal year.

“We have to reverse what happened before,” Ashley said.

The comments came during more than an hour of discussion about retirement costs and the county’s efforts to put in place a second-tier of lower benefits for newly hired workers.

General county workers pay 8 percent of their salary toward retirement for the first five years of employment. After that, the county makes the contribution. Public-safety employees pay 9 percent for the first three years of employment. The benefits were provided in lieu of regular salary increases in past years, Ashley said.

Chief Financial Officer Ed Corser said requiring general employees to pay 8 percent toward their retirement –known as an employee paid member contribution – would translate into about $20 million in annual savings.

Ashley said county officials will have to negotiate the issue with employee unions and may not get all 8 percent amount back at once.

Supervisor Jeff Stone agreed that employees should begin making contributions toward their own retirement. But it should be phased in to “ease that stress,” since it comes out of an employee’s take-home pay.

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