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Ventura County supervisors cut manager pensions

Ventura County supervisors Tuesday voted to trim pension costs for about 950 government managers by trimming back the amount of vacation and sick leave that can be cashed out at retirement.

On a 4-0 vote, supervisors said managers would no longer be able to sell back 160 hours of annual leave  when they retire, reducing it to 100 hours. The change is retroactive to April 5, 2011, when the board froze the sell-back program for new hires and asked county administrators to come back with an alternative.

Supervisor Kathy Long was absent.

An analysis by county Chief Executive Mike Powers showed that most of the county's 8,000 employees receive modest payouts when they retire.  On average, retirees earn $33,000 a year with no cost-of-living increase, he said.

But a small group of top earners have been able to significantly bump up pensions by cashing out leave time and other benefits when they retire, he said. A Los Angeles Times investigation last month showed that 84% of the retirees receiving more than $100,000 a year are receiving more than they did on the job; at least 22 retirees earn more than $200,000.

The changes will result in a 7% reduction in pension costs over the long term, Powers said. Ventura County will immediately save about $450,000 a year, with that figure growing to an estimated $9 million in 20 years.

Employee groups represented by unions maintain the benefit, but supervisors said they would ask for similar reductions during contract negotiations. For current managers, the rights are vested, Powers said. In the last year, several employee groups have agreed to pay more toward their pensions, further reducing the county's cost, he said.

"We achieved good balance here,'' he said.

The Ventura County Taxpayers Assn. has repeatedly asked for more far-reaching reforms, including the cash out of education incentives and other bonuses. Powers said the supervisors asked him to continue investigating whether other reforms are necessary, possibly in concert with Gov. Jerry Brown's 12-point proposal to reduce government pensions.

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-- Catherine Saillant

 
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