County Benefits Case Heads Back to Court

The dispute over the amount Ventura County’s retirees are owed in benefits in the wake of a landmark state court ruling is headed for Superior Court.

An attorney representing a coalition of county employee groups filed a lawsuit earlier this month seeking to make the state Supreme Court ruling, which significantly boosted the benefits owed to former county employees, apply three years back.

The suit by Santa Monica attorney Stephen H. Silver comes after the county’s Board of Retirement refused to grant retroactivity to the groups earlier this year.

The board had voted in January to only apply the ruling from last year forward, but decided to reconsider the issue to stave off lawsuits threatened by county labor groups.


As a result of a precedent-setting lawsuit brought by the Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs Assn., Ventura and 19 other California counties must add certain employee benefits, such as cashed-out vacation time, to base pay when calculating retirement benefits.

That means Ventura County must pay out more retirement benefits than it had anticipated when collecting contributions to its retirement systems.

The county is on the hook for an estimated $66 million in future retirement payments for all active employees and those who retired within the past year, according to a consultant’s report.

And if the court decision is deemed applicable to all 2,861 former county employees now collecting retirement benefits, the county could be liable for another $27.6 million.


Moreover, if the decision was made retroactive for those who have been collecting benefits during the past three years--as Silver argues it should--the county would have to pay an extra $5.9 million in lump-sum checks, according to a report by actuary Rick Roeder.

The sum of all those unfunded costs, when spread out, would cost the county more than $14 million a year--money that would have to come from the county’s budget, officials said.