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Sounding Board: Excessive Benefits

Daily Transcript Question: Current pension benefits for city employees are widely viewed as being excessive when compared to pensions offered in the private sector. Do you agree that the city's pension benefits are excessive and, if so, what would you recommend city leaders do to avoid the granting of excessive pension benefits in the future?

I'm not sure comparing municipal pension benefits to the private sector is a fair comparison.

You are traditionally competing for talent in the job market from the public sector arena; perhaps a better benchmark is other cities and counties throughout the state and region.

My understanding is the city of San Diego's pension benefits are currently at the 100th percentile, or virtually the highest paid anywhere, which has led to the "gold plated benefits" referenced in many publications.

If this is the case, an essential first step is to recalibrate the "going forward" benefits at a lower, more reasonable percentile -- 75th percentile. All new employees would be eligible for these new benefits which would remain competitive, but reduce pension costs to a more affordable level. The 75th percentile could then become the benchmark goal for all benefits during labor negotiations.

Wouldn't we be better off paying higher salaries and lower benefits and bringing this misaligned structure back into a competitive and more affordable place?

William K. Geppert

Cox Communications, VP & Regional Manager

The city of San Diego pension problem and the lack of an audit raises the question of the backgrounds of our elected city officials.

This would not happen in the private sector as a board member would raise questions about the affordability of the proposed increases and can the company afford the program not only this year but into the future.

Defined benefit programs should be phased out and replaced with other types of retirement programs.

The recent mayor and current city council folks that voted the benefits also saw their benefits increase as an example, with the opportunity buy deep discounted increased benefits.

The Mercedes Benz program installed by the council has no comparisons in the private sector, to think the an employee can opt for five more years after they reach retirement age and the city will put aside their annual salary as an incentive to stay, who would not jump all over that program?

Conflicts of interest abound with the current city practices and no one, no previous city attorney, no councilmember has raised the question.

How can this happen?

Maybe because the overseers of the public's funds also benefited from the improvements.

We need to elect people that understand these issues and have public oversight of retirement programs to assure that the taxpayers are protected.

-- Tom Carter

Carter Reese & Associates -- president & general partner

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The Daily Transcript introduces Sounding Board, a regular opinion page feature focusing on current issues. Send your responses to soundingboard@sddt.com.

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