Glendale city officials wrestling with retirement benefits

City officials say theyve done what can be done, others aren't so sure.

March 22, 2013|By Brittany Levine,

When it comes to managing skyrocketing pension obligations, Glendale’s either done all it can or is failing horribly, depending on who you talk to.

While most City Council candidates have criticized city pensions, the city manager, incumbents and union leaders say Glendale has already implemented comprehensive reform and nothing more can be done.

Glendale has taken big steps to curb rising pension costs, but more — albeit controversial — options are available.

“The first thing I would say is, I have no magic formula. No one has,” said Yan Tang, research director of USC’s Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise.


Changing retirement benefits is a difficult process that involves hours of negotiations with union leaders, many of whom believe employees have ceded enough already. Glendale officials negotiate annually with bargaining groups, except the Glendale Fire Fighters Assn., which has a multi-year agreement through 2016.

More than a decade ago, during the stock market boom, Glendale officials increased retirement benefits. But the boom times disappeared and payments to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or CalPERS, ballooned as Glendale faced yawning budget gaps.

“The thing that really changed everything is that one day politicians woke up and said, ‘Wow, look at how much we have to pay for [pensions] and our tax collections are getting flat,’” said Steve Malanga, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “This was really getting to be a problem.”

Starting a few years ago, city leaders increased what employees pay for their pensions, reduced benefits and increased the retirement age for new hires. While current employees base their pensions on their single highest salary, new-hires’ pensions use an average of the last three years.

New firefighters are immune from the “blending” formula through 2014.

Glendale employees currently contribute between 8.5% and 12% of their paychecks toward their pensions — more than Burbank and Pasadena.

“We absolutely have done a lot,” said Craig Hinckley, president of Glendale City Employees Assn. “If you look at Glendale, we’re one of the few agencies that has a cost-sharing agreement.”

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