During the current debate over a proposed parcel tax for Contra Costa Fire Protection District, firefighters and their allies have claimed that firefighters pay most, if not all, of their pension costs.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Based upon approved Employer contribution rates by the Contra Costa County Employees’ Retirement Association (CCCERA) Board of Trustees on October 12, 2011, Con Fire’s employer contribution rate, which is paid by the taxpayers, will be 49.56% of salary while firefighters will pay 15.14% of salary for fiscal 2012-13.
Firefighters claim they pay 9% of the Employer’s share, and while this is a technically correct statement, they fail to disclose all the facts. In late 2002 the Board of Supervisors approved the 2% at 55 for General members (2% of salary for each year worked), and 3% at 50 for Safety members (3% of salary for each year worked) enhanced retirement benefits.
As part of the agreement, General members received pay raises of 2%-3% per year while Safety members were granted four annual pay raises of 5% less a 2.25% deduction for retirement benefits. In other words, the Board of Supervisors gave the firefighters the raise to pay for those enhanced retirement benefits (See Board Resolution 2002/608 dated October 1, 2002).
The upcoming Pension Obligation Bond payment of $11.5 million comes directly from taxpayers through Con Fire’s property tax allocation.
Looking at the big picture, in 2010 all of CCCERA’s employers paid a total of $183,950,930 as their contribution into the retirement system while employees paid $64,330,484. Employers, and ultimately the taxpayers, paid 74.09% of all contributions (See CCCERA’s 2010 Actuarial Valuation, pg 71).
Management has known about the implosion of Con Fire’s finances for over three years, yet nothing has been done to fix the pension and employee benefit debacle. Based on Con Fire’s own financial projections, the proposed parcel tax is only a short term solution. By fiscal 2015-16, Con Fire will be back in the red and will need more of your tax dollars to maintain current service levels.
Instead of a parcel tax, what is needed is a serious discussion on how we solve Con Fire’s financial crisis. Until that is done and the union completely agrees to benefit and wage concessions, including a new retirement tier for new employees, any short term funding solution only allows them and current Supervisors to kick the can down the road.
~ Bill Pollacek, served as Contra Costa County Treasurer-Tax Collector, and is retired.