2013-08-08 / Community

City Hall passes pension reform

Employees agree to contribute—in return for raises
By Anna Bitong


RETIREMENT— The cost of employee retirement benefits peaked in 2006-07 at more than $10 million. This year, the projected cost is around $8 million. RETIREMENT— The cost of employee retirement benefits peaked in 2006-07 at more than $10 million. This year, the projected cost is around $8 million. For the first time since the 1980s, city employees are contributing to their retirement pensions, an expense that cost taxpayers $2 million a year.

The change is part of two-year labor agreements between the City of Thousand Oaks and its three bargaining units: the Thousand Oaks City Employees Association (TOCEA), which negotiates three-year contracts for more than 200 general employees; the Thousand Oaks Management Association (TOMA), which negotiates on behalf of the city’s professional employees—such as accountants, engineers and planners; and Senior Management Association (SMA), which represents about 60 division managers and supervisors.

The agreements, which will affect nearly 400 city workers, were ratified by the employee unions and approved by the City Council July 9.

On July 6, employees started paying 3.5 percent of their salaries to the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), which manages pension and health benefits for public employees and retirees. Their contribution will increase to 7 percent next July.

The expense was previously shouldered by the city.

Finance Director John Adams said that as part of negotiations in the 1980s, bargaining units negotiated that the city pick up the employee share of 7 percent in lieu of other compensation adjustments, including salary increases.

TOCEA employees last contributed in 1985. TOMA and SMA employees last contributed in 1982, Adams said.

During that time, he said, the city did not make employer contributions for many years because of the investment performance of CalPERS, including a period from 1997 through 2004.

Councilmember Al Adam said requiring employees to pay their own pensions “is a fair way to go.”

“I think that the employees realize that we’re in an era now that it’s realistic to think that people in the private sector have to fund their own retirements, and people in the public sector have to do the same thing,” Adam said before the council’s vote.

In exchange for the contribution, the city will offer pay raises to general employees based on performance, bumping up compensation by an average of 1.8 percent.

The city also agreed to reinstate merit-based pay raises for professional employees, those represented by TOMA, which haven’t been given in four years.

The finance director said that the last merit-based raises occurred in 2009 for TOMA and SMA employees.

“We recognize the fact that our employees deserve raises based on merit,” Adam said. “We’re happy to be able to afford it.”

Finance Director Adams said city employees gave up their contractually guaranteed raises in 2010 due to the economic recession.

“This is the first real (salary) adjustment that employees have had since 2009,” Adams told the Acorn this week.

“We have also reduced staff (by about 100 employees) on top of going without raises.”

Included in the pay hike is an added $100 city contribution to the employee’s cafeteria plan— from $460 to $560 a month— starting in January. The benefit plan, maintained by employers, allows employees to receive certain benefits on a pre-tax basis.

The city’s total contribution to health insurance will not exceed $995 a month for all employees covered by the agreement.

“(The increase) is reflective of significant changes that have happened in the cost of health premiums,” said Gary Rogers, human resources director.

Negotiations

The employees’ new twoyear contracts were negotiated between April and late June.

TOCEA President Mike Gildroy said their agreement, approved by a 94 percent vote, was fair.

“There were huge concessions on both sides,” said Gildroy, a longtime member of the union who is serving his first year as president. “The city is very conservative with their money.”

More than 65 TOCEA members attended the June 25 City Council meeting “to remind the council that lives and families” would be affected by the agreements, he said.

“They understood that,” Gildroy said. “We’ve had a good relationship with the City of Thousand Oaks.”

Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña said the negotiations were successful, “albeit not always very easy.”

“I’m very glad that we have an outstanding workforce who is going to continue to provide excellent service to our community,” she said at the meeting.

Councilmember Andy Fox also praised the work of city employees.

“I can literally count on one hand the times I’ve received phone calls from a constituent complaining about city service,” said the longtime council member. “It’s virtually nonexistent in Thousand Oaks. The reason is we have such great employees. . . . They believe in what they do, they believe in this community and they believe in the high level of service that we strive to provide every day.”

Other changes

T.O. residents should take note of the new holiday schedule.

In addition to being closed Christmas Day, City Hall and the Municipal Service Center will be closed between Dec. 26 and Dec. 31. There will be minimal staffing at the Grant Brimhall and Newbury Park libraries and Hill Canyon Treatment Plant during that time.

Rogers said the closure may save the city money, while Adams pointed out that many employees already take time off around the holidays.

“It’s probably more efficient to close City Hall than not be able to provide the current range of services,” he said.

The agreements also extended the employee probationary period from six to 12 months.

“We have to make sure we have ample opportunities to evaluate the candidates that come on board,” Rogers said.

Assistant City Manager Andrew Powers said the longer trial period will allow employees to complete their training before being evaluated.

“High-performing employees are our ultimate goal,” he said. “Operating with fewer employees, it is even more critical that every employee perform at a high level.”

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