Union Argues Case on Pension Funding

The county's retired workers should continue receiving supplemental benefits, but not at the expense of future retirees, representatives of Ventura County's public employees union argued Monday.

Instead of dipping into funds reserved for future payments, the county should use general fund revenues or look for a permanent way to pay the supplemental benefits on which retirees have come to rely, Steve Wood, president of Service Employees International Union, Local 998, said at a county Board of Retirement meeting.

"We resent the effort that is being made to attempt to make the issue one that pits active employees against retired employees," Wood wrote in a letter to the board. "What we are committed to doing is finding a solution to a problem."

Last week, the county's tax collector said the retirement board would have to use reserve funds to pay the $5 million it would cost for added benefits in the next fiscal year. That could eventually deplete the $42-million reserve account and force present employees to pay more toward their own retirement, Tax Collector Harold S. Pittman said.

Faced with the tough choice of canceling the benefits or dipping into reserves, the retirement board decided to delay the vote for further study.

With a new budget year beginning July 1, the board acknowledged that it could not put the decision off much longer and set a special meeting for 9 a.m. Friday.

The dilemma arose when stock market losses combined with declines in real estate value left the retirement fund without excess cash for the added benefits. The supplemental benefits, which are paid in addition to the employees' regular retirement payments, run as high as $280 a month for some retired workers.

But retirees argued that the county is overstating the problem. The county's retirement fund has a 5% reserve, even though state law requires only 1% to be set aside.

"The fund is very, very healthy," said Ann Michalski, past president of the county Retired Employees Assn. Inc.

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