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City of Lodi faces steep pension increases

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Posted: Saturday, May 14, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:07 am, Mon May 16, 2011.

For the first time in Lodi's history, the city is asking all of its employees to pay into their pensions to help offset steep increases in retirement costs.

Earlier this month, Lodi's top managers agreed to pay 7 percent of their pension costs, which is the maximum allowed by the state.

Staff is currently in negotiations with all of the city's unions, and will ask employees to pay a portion of pension costs to help offset a $1.2 million increase during the 2011 fiscal year alone, which starts July 1.

"We desperately need to provide an education effort to our employees so they understand with the rising cost of our pension program, those dollars will not be used for other things, whether it is bodies for services or capital projects," City Manager Rad Bartlam said. "The costs have tripled in the past seven years. It is just not sustainable."

One of the city's main unions, the Lodi Professional Firefighters Association, plans on paying a portion of their costs, even though they believe city leaders created the problem by mismanaging money when the economy was booming, union president Brad Doell said.

On a statewide level, pension reform advocates are concerned that even if cities do everything in their power to reduce costs, it will not be enough.

The total costs for city of Lodi pensions increased by almost $5 million in the last decade to $7.1 million for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. By 2013, that number is expected to reach $9.8 million.

Every city in the state is also seeing costs skyrocket. In Galt, pensions increased by $171,590 from 2010 to 2011 alone.

In 2010, Galt paid $1.7 million, and that number is expected to increase to $2.4 million by 2013 — a $631,274 increase.

The sudden, steep increases are because the California Public Employees' Retirement System lost 30 percent of its total fund value during the recession, Bartlam said. Cities, counties and other local agencies will have to gradually pay back those costs over the next 15 years.

In Lodi, employees have agreed for the past three years to a variety of concessions to balance the city's budget, including furloughs, pay cuts, and eliminating city contributions to an optional retirement plan separate from a pension.

But with revenues stagnating, and pension and health care costs rising, the city is now asking for employees to start contributing more.

The Lodi Police Officers Association President Paul Blandford said it is important to remember that in some cases officers received portions of their benefits package, including pension contributions, instead of a raise.

"At some point, everything is negotiated," he said.

Blandford and Doell both said the public safety unions are frustrated with the situation because they believe that officials mismanaged funds in the early 2000s, and that is why the city is struggling now.

During that time period, the pension system was "superfunded" and CalPERS did not require cities to pay full payments. Both union leaders said the city should have been putting the money it would have paid into a separate account to save for harder economic times.

"But that's the past. There's nothing we can do about it. Hopefully, it's a lesson learned and people will be better stewards of the taxpayer money in the future," Doell said.

Doell said firefighters are planning to pay part of their pension, but he is not sure what percentage. During the past six years, he said the union has offered to pay part of the employee pension costs, but city staff has declined that offer until this year.

"I just know that our bargaining group is in a position to help the city in its long-term economic health," he said.

Where are we currently doing, and what are the solutions?

City leaders like Mayor Bob Johnson say there is no question that the city of Lodi needs to look at ways to reduce pension costs.

"I don't think that anybody would disagree with me when it is said — and has been said by people smarter than I — that the pension system is unsustainable. We can't do business like we have in the past," he said.

In the city of Lodi, sworn police officers and firefighters receive 3 percent of their highest year of pay at the age of 50. All other employees receive 2 percent at 55 based on their average three highest years of pay.

So here is how it works: If a police officer has worked for the city for 30 years and reaches age 50, then the pension is calculated by multiplying 30 by 3 percent. So the retiree will receive 90 percent of their highest year of pay.

Public safety is capped at 90 percent, while miscellaneous is not capped.

Lodi adopted the retirement formulas in 2000, along with many other agencies through the state. Cities cannot decrease the percentages for current or former employees.

So local leaders really only have two ways to legally control pension costs aside from layoffs.

Future employees could be put on a two-tier system, so any new hires could possibly receive a lesser percentage at a higher age.

Bartlam said that the city plans to create a two-tier system, but it is a long-term solution because it will be years before the city will sees any savings.

Doell said he has concerns that the city will have a harder time retaining employees if there is a two-tier system.

"When you have employees doing the same job at the same classification and making a different salary or benefit packages, at the end of the day, that's not good," Doell said.

The other option is to make workers pay part or the entire portion of their pension costs. Currently, the city pays the employer and employee share of pension costs for all workers.

That is a common trend in cities, but with the recent pension concerns, cities are increasingly asking employees to pick up part of the tab.

The executive managers and employees appointed by the council — including the city manager, city attorney and city clerk — agreed to pay 7 percent of their pension costs in the hope it would set the tone for future negotiations.

State law caps how much cities and counties can make their employees pay toward their pensions. Sworn firefighters and police officers can contribute a maximum of 9 percent while all other employees are capped at 7 percent.

The city is currently negotiating concessions with all the unions to balance the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. Then, the city will be start another round of negotiations because all of the union contracts except two, will expire in December.

What if those changes are not enough?

Even if the city creates a two-tier system and employees pay their full share, Bartlam has concerns that in the future the city could still come up short.

"Like so many things, us poor people at the local level are really going to be dependent on the state legislature to change the law," he said.

In February, the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, released a report stating that enhanced retirements — such as 3 percent at 50 for public safety — that were put in place in the early 2000s are unsustainable. It recommended that the state replace the pensions with a new hybrid system.

Marcia Fritz, president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, agrees that the pension system needs to be completely overhauled.

"Cities are going to run out of options. I think we are going to see some bankruptcy because of these burdensome contracts," she said.

The goal of Fritz's nonprofit organization is to educate the public and state leaders about pensions, as well as to look at possible solutions.

Fritz said there are a variety of models, but they focus on three main sources for retirement. Employees would still have a pension, but in addition they would draw from Social Security as well as another retirement account set up similar to a 401(k).

A statewide change to a hybrid system is the only way to significantly reduce costs, Fritz said. Even with the options cities have, she said it is hard for them to implement them because unions have so much power.

This becomes apparent when cities negotiate for a second tier and only decrease public safety to 2 percent at 50, instead of going for 2 percent at 60.

"The fact that they aren't going for most efficient savings tells me they are not working hard enough. ... You are in a crisis; why not go for the most cost-savings possible?" Fritz said.

But in order for the Legislature to pass any type of pension reform, it needs to be supported by the unions.

"If they do not take responsibility, it's not going to happen, and their members are going to suffer the most because taxpayers will not vote for tax increases while this pension problem continues," she said.

Johnson said it is important for the state Legislature to find a solution, because they passed the law creating enhanced retirements in 2000, which created this mess.

"We are the ones stuck between a rock and a hard place while the Legislature throws kitty litter at each other while coming up with a budget," Johnson said.

As a public employee, Doell said he is frustrated when people talk about pension costs being an unfunded liability.

He believes the city has made a commitment to employees, and it should stick with the agreement, especially because employees made pay and benefit concessions during negotiations to receive these pension benefits.

He compared it to buying a home. When someone takes out a loan, it's because they cannot afford to pay $250,000 all at once. But they are making a commitment to the lien holder — the bank — to make that payment regardless of what is happening in the market.

"Public employees are the lien holder, and the city had not been making good on their pension," he said.

Blandford said that one of the other problems with the pension system is that it is hard to measure what is actually happening with the retirement accounts.

"On the PERS website, they paint a different picture than politicians paint. PERS says it's recovering and sustainable, while politicians are saying it's going to implode in a couple of years. I guess time will tell," he said.

The private sector went through these changes in benefits about 10 years ago, and there was still some resistance then, said Dean Gualco, manager of human resources for the city of Lodi.

He said the city has to work with employees and understand that this is the first time some of the workers who have been with the city for decades have been asked to contribute to retirement.

"When someone is raised in a culture, and then you change the culture, you can't expect them to flip on a dime," Gualco said.

But he said there are basically two options: Have fewer people, which results in reduced services; or keep the same number of employees to maintain service, and pay them less.

Bartlam also said the city doesn't have many options.

"Our fiscal necessities are in fact real, not make-believe. Our job is to provide services to the community. Some of them we will ultimately do without, and some of those services we don't think we can do without, (which) means paying employees less than we did previously," Bartlam said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinew s.com or read her blog at www. lodinews.com/blogs/city_buzz.

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  • roy bitz posted at 8:23 am on Tue, May 17, 2011.

    roy bitz Posts: 489

    In today's paper Mr. Bartlam tells us Lodi police were "gifted" a 20% increase in 2008. This is crazy!

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 8:37 pm on Mon, May 16, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    mike... I understand your post and you made fair points... however, my point is that there are farmers, self employed, roofers, mom and pop store owners, insurance employees, farm workers, priests, fisherman, construction workers, car repair workers, child care providers, private school teachers, private sector janitors, Walmart employees, Kmart employee, Starbucks employees, Dillards employees, title company employees, clerks, gas station attendants, accountant, lawyers, doctors and all sorts of other employees that are all treated like second class people with substandard retirement plans. None have defined benefit retirement plans like teachers and government employees who have been exempted from social security... why are all these people excluded from what is obviously a better plan... why are teachers and government employees treated as a higher class and more deserving? Its why I get so disgusted when I hear these people complain about their situation...there is nothing to complain about compared to everyone else.

  • Mike Adams posted at 6:38 pm on Mon, May 16, 2011.

    Mike Adams Posts: 1271

    Darrell, I don't know why teachers get to participate in an additional retirement plan, but most do. It's one of those "we didn't start this, but we'll take part in it". I think it came about in the early-mid 80's for some perceived problem.

    Back in the day (before my day), teachers weren't paid as much as they are today. They couldn't collectively bargain (1970's), they didn't get health or dental plans.
    To be honest, it wasn't the best job to have, at least if you wanted to live moderately.
    Thankfully, teacher unions evolved as legislation allowed teachers to collectively bargain and as a result (over 30-40 years) it has become a decent wage with decent benefits. Those things are eroding now and we know it.

  • Doug Chaney posted at 12:41 pm on Mon, May 16, 2011.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    Darrell, you knew that, too? LOL

  • Charles Nelson posted at 9:20 am on Mon, May 16, 2011.

    Charles Nelson Posts: 257

    Don't worry, the City of Lodi has a fresh new source of income from its citizens. Metered water.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 9:19 am on Mon, May 16, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    That is easy Josh... as much as they can and more than they have... smile

  • Josh Morgan posted at 8:10 am on Mon, May 16, 2011.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    Now Doug, how would you know how much a drunken sailor spends at a brothel?

  • Doug Chaney posted at 8:53 pm on Sun, May 15, 2011.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    Mr. Scott, you sound like a council parrot. Blame it on Dixon Flynn and Allan Vallow? It's the city council, and those 5 votes only, that enact the legislation that rewards them with their own salary and benefit package containing any amount and written in the legalese they choose to benefit themslevesIf you look at the current council, you can see two present members that were assumed to be instrumental in the financial destruction of Lodi Electric and the city of Lodi, still spending like drunken sailors in a brothel.

  • Doug Chaney posted at 8:44 pm on Sun, May 15, 2011.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    Josh and Jackson, if you don't think there are and always have been, backdoor deals that go on in Lodi and any other city or burg in this country, you are either one of those wheeler dealers in denial, or very, very naive.

  • Jackson Scott posted at 6:44 pm on Sun, May 15, 2011.

    Jackson Scott Posts: 382

    One of my dinner partners & I last night were discussing this article. She brought up a keen point: It was City Manager Dixon Flynn who was in charge during the early 2000's. We guessed he juiced up his pension during this time.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 10:42 am on Sun, May 15, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Joanne Bobin posted at 10:09...A company I consulted for "hired" a couple of independent contractors, allowed them to receive medical coverage under their group plan, then terminated the employee-employer relationship a month later. The IC's continued coverage under COBRA, entirely paid for by the company. Just an example of "creative" ways to give coverage...

    I agree... creative... but... if the insurance company found out that what you described actually happened, they could rescind coverage and sue for any claims paid out. The fact that they put them on COBRA in my mind indicates more evidence that what they did was fraud ( they were aware that an employer/employee relationship was needed for eligibility requirements.... can you imagine a million dollar claim denied.... a lawyers dream case... also, if I was a terminated employee from that same employer...who had to pay for my COBRA, I would sue the employer to pay for mine under discrimination basis. Risky behavior by the employer... I would have never advised my client to do what was done.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 10:21 am on Sun, May 15, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    It surprises that anyone thinks it is appropriate or fair that such a large portion of our society deserves a defined benefit plan while everybody else has a far less superior plan in social security... In addition, it amazes me that STRS's participants are eligible for 403B tax deferred benefits where up to 20,000 can be sheltered from taxes where private sector employees cannot. In my view, all defined benefit plans are far better than anything private sector can get... maybe the debate should be... why are government employees and teachers more deserving and more imortant ? Why do they get so much more? Why are they so privileged?
    I would trade my social security for a defined benefit plan in a heart beat...

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 10:09 am on Sun, May 15, 2011.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4308

    Mr. Baumbach at 10:12AM 5/14: Interesting comments - I know your profession compels you to be knowledgeable about these issues, but what about the "go-arounds?"

    A company I consulted for "hired" a couple of independent contractors, allowed them to receive medical coverage under their group plan, then terminated the employee-employer relationship a month later. The IC's continued coverage under COBRA, entirely paid for by the company. Just an example of "creative" ways to give coverage.

  • roy bitz posted at 9:39 am on Sun, May 15, 2011.

    roy bitz Posts: 489

    It surprises me the pension program for police and firemen is 50% better than the pension program for other city employees.
    It also surprises me that "part time/elected/volunteers" ( city council members ) receive pension and healthcare benefits---while part-time employees do not.
    Council members have an opportunity "walk their talk"--they could choose to stop receiving city paid pension and healthcare benefits. As long as they continue to accept these "UNEARNED goodies they are part of the problem.

  • Mike Adams posted at 8:05 am on Sun, May 15, 2011.

    Mike Adams Posts: 1271

    Teachers pay into STRS...8% of gross monthly. The school district kicks in a
    matching amount + some other factor..8.25%(this may sunset this year). I suppose
    that a school district could negotiate paying the teachers' portion if they wanted, in
    which case a district's contribution would be anywhere up to 16.25%, with teachers
    paying nothing.

    Can someone, who actually knows how the city pension participation plan works and not just some sort of psuedo expert who just types opinion, tell me:
    1. Is the city (or cities or any public entity) paying the entire contribution to CalPers
    so that some groups of employees pay nothing into their own retirement?

    2. If #1 is true, and aside from collective bargaining, why are some groups recieving
    pensions at higher rates. It was my understanding that everyone (inCalPers) was
    getting 3 @ 50 (%per years worked at age 50, assuming they have been vested)?

    Again, I would prefer someone who actually knows the answer and not just speculation on someone's part to respond to this. There is a considerable amount of misinformation out here, some out of deception, some just plain ignorance.

  • Josh Morgan posted at 6:17 pm on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    Manuel..........it was a compound sentence.

  • Jackson Scott posted at 5:04 pm on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    Jackson Scott Posts: 382

    Doug, Josh's 3:11pm post is 110% correct. I agree with some of what you say, but then you spew your conspiracy theories of GOB's, backroom deals, blah blah blah.

    Doug, I think Rad's "poor" folks was something like "red headed stepchild" at the local level. Meaning the local level gets what's left of the pie, usually not much. You naturally fly off the handle and go straight into another rant about Rad's salary.

    As for the content of the article, I'm so sick of my City of Lodi employee friends complaining. Go get a job in the real world, then see what you have to pay for medical, and what you have to contribute to a 401k. This is why your $60K goes so much farther then your neighbors $60K per year.

    Why did the city contributions shoot up years ago? Because they had to, due to poor performance by the CalPers investments as I recall. This in NOT just a Lodi problem, this is an every city in the state of Calif problem.

    If you think our city is a mess, just look at Stockton and see what true disfunction looks like.

  • Doug Chaney posted at 4:17 pm on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    Josh, look up good ol' boys on Wiki? I think it pertains to any issue or good old boy that controls Lodi. They are the same good old boys that have run Lodi since its beginning and enacted each and every law, rule and ordinance to benefit themselves and their peers, many of them relatives, that not only have the retirement systyem on the verge of bankruptcy, so they say, and who have gotten filthy rich staacking the deck by being one of those 3 out of 5 council reps who have the ability to pass and control issues like nice fat retirement checks, grandiose salaries, and allow themselves to spend Lodi taxpayers into oblivion due to being very ignorant about spending other (taxpayers) money on a whim.

  • Manuel Martinez posted at 3:56 pm on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    Manuel Martinez Posts: 641

    Josh, can you explain how references to "the good ol' boys" are indicative of racism?

  • Josh Morgan posted at 3:11 pm on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    Doug.....just some friendly advice. Keep your remarks to the subject at hand. You really have some good opinions and then your credibility goes out the window when you start making your racist remarks and claims that the City is run by the "good ol boyz". Your predictions of arrests, indictments, Grand Jury investigations, etal are just undermining your opinions.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 10:12 am on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Doug... if you really want to pursue investigating if the CC can have health care benefits through the city, you need to get a copy of the contract between the insurance carrier and the city. In it are provisions that dictate eligibility. I contacted Blue Shield and asked if I could offer health insurance to a municipality including their board members... they replied only if the board members meet eligibility requirements of 30 hours per week time worked.
    There normally needs to be a employer/employee relationship and a minimum of 30 hours paid income registered on the DE-6 now a DE-9... It is not likely board members qualify by contract just has a board member of a C corporation is not eligible unless verification of full time employee status is submitted to the insurance carrier. If I were a part time employee of the city of Lodi, I would request to view a copy of the contract... there “could be” (might be) grounds to sue for benefits based on discrimination. I think it would be interesting to see this contract... if they have a legitimate way to do what they are doing, I would love to know what that contractual provision is so I could apply it to other organizations that would want to do the same thing. Discrimination has legal teeth.

  • Doug Chaney posted at 9:28 am on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    And city manager Mr. Bartlam makes the statement: Even if the city creates a two-tier system and employees pay their full share, Bartlam has concerns that in the future the city could still come up short.
    "Like so many things, us poor people at the local level are really going to be dependent on the state legislature to change the law," he said. HUH? Us poor people? For someone who corners around $200,000 including seen and unseen perks, that's quite a statement. Poor?
    And after listening to council meetings and researching Lodi corruption on the internet, HighBeam research, and all local papers and links, listening to these self serving blowhards and their self promoting local newspaper who paints them as those they really aren't, I tend to believe the statement by Mr. Doell, who says PERS funds should have been put away in good times and not squandered on projects like the unneeded and unwanted water treatment plant and investment in the NCPA's greenhouse gas spewing gas fired co-gen plant, the Lodi Energy Center, generating gigantic profits for the NCPA and a risky future investment for Lodi with the green energy mandates just around the corner, and the mismanagement of funds in the early 2000's, including the power spot electricity buy by Hansen and the NCPA which nearly bankrupted LEUD and Lodi. These city council reps are just ordinary citizens like you and I and don't have any ideas outside of their own self interests and those of the developers and money families here in this little caucasian dominated town. Just look at the eastside oof Lodi, the strip malls, the dilapidated and rundown buildings all over town, the pecking orders for all these societal little groups and you can see why Lodi is not so livable and lovable anymore for anyone but the wealthy, well-connected, wine drinkers and growers society, and good old boys. Long live Lodi!

  • Doug Chaney posted at 9:02 am on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    Larry Hansen, what is your actual pension amount from LPD and other city pension plans, if any? And how much are those grandiose healthcare plans costing Lodi taxpayers that are provided to city of Lodi employees, some who have their own plan, either private or coverage by another employer oor spouse, who then can put that $13,000 or so for city paid healthcare into their own pockets? Not only does pension need to be reformed, but also the co-pays on healthcare and double-ddipping by those who take the cash payment. And, ex-police chief Hansen, you were the one of the principals who initiated the retire at 50 system that is now breaking coties and little towns like Lodi all across the country when you were with LPD.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 7:47 am on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    "We desperately need to provide an education effort to our employees so they understand with the rising cost of our pension program …

    I think if they want a real education of the true problem, they should print off “JOHN RING'S” post and make it mandatory for each employee to read and memorize his words. John's thoughts hits the nail on the head as to the reality of the situation. Just to add to his thoughts, Ive posted this paragraph from the paper which dispels the notion that city leaders created the problem by mismanaging money Its not only a Lodi problem.

    By: Examiner Staff Writer 08/24/10 3:00 AM
    The Washington Examiner Follow Us @dcexaminer
    Unfunded public pension liabilities, which a Pew Center on the States report calculates is now as high as $1 trillion nationwide, threaten to bankrupt states that fail to address this ticking fiscal time bomb. But in California, which has an unimaginable $500 billion public pension problem and became the object of national ridicule for outrageous pension abuses in Bell, state lawmakers still couldn’t bring themselves to pass legislation preventing highly paid government employees from using unused vacation and sick days accumulated during their last year on the job to pad their life-long pensions.

  • John Ring posted at 6:48 am on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    John Ring Posts: 34

    I see where I made a mistake in my post. I meant "thats why the private sector went to a defined CONTRIBUTION system" not benefit system.

  • John Ring posted at 6:45 am on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    John Ring Posts: 34

    This is is a simple math problem. The bill for the benefits that have been negotiated by public unions(and agreed to by politicians) all over the country is now coming due. I as a tax payer was not part of the negotiation. Being a private sector empolyee I had no bargaining power in the negotiation but now I am being asked to foot the bill as a taxpayer. It is pretty clear that the politicians are bought and paid for by the unions which helped contribute to the problem we now face. The long term solution will be to shift all these benefits over to a defined contribution mechanism versus a defined benefit system. We can argue and complain all we want about mismanagement of the funds after the fact but that doesn't solve the problem. That's why the private sector went to a defined benefit system years ago. The unions are starting to get it but there really is no choice as the money will be running out with the current system. What we see in concessions by the unions is a good start in recognizing the problem. Hopefully here in Lodi they will restructure the system instead of just asking the taxpayer to pay more to cover the cost.

  • Josh Morgan posted at 6:26 am on Sat, May 14, 2011.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    "Blandford and Doell both said the public safety unions are frustrated with the situation because they believe that officials mismanaged funds in the early 2000s, and that is why the city is struggling now.

    According to the chart in the newspapers it was the early 2000's that these pension contributions started to sky rocket. Can anyone direct me to the website that would have the Council members names and who City management was in the early 2000's. The only mismanaged funds I see are the huge increase in pension contributions by the City.



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