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Glendale pays big pension numbers

More than 10% make $100,000; average is much less than that.

May 11, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • Public records show that about 11% of the nearly 1,400 city retirees draw annual pensions of more than $100,000 a year - and some of them far more than that. Former City Manager Jim Starbird draws $238,686, followed by ex-Fire Chief Christopher Gray at $200,783 and former Police Capt. Ray Edey at $198,386 at the top of the list.
Public records show that about 11% of the nearly 1,400… (Steve Greenberg…)

As Glendale struggles to get a handle on its growing pension obligations, records show that about 11% of the nearly 1,350 city retirees draw annual pensions of more than $100,000 a year — and some of them far more than that.

At the top of the list is former City Manager Jim Starbird, who draws $238,686, followed by ex-Fire Chief Christopher Gray at $200,783 and former Police Capt. Ray Edey at $198,386.

But the sticker shock of high earners doesn't tell the whole story, pension experts said. The average is often much lower than the top earners, including in Glendale.

According to an analysis of data from the California Public Employees' Retirement System, or CalPERS, municipal retirees from Glendale draw an average annual pension of $50,654 — nearly twice as much as their counterparts nationwide. But most retirees, or 38%, make between $10,000 and $39,000 annually. About 27% collect between $40,000 and $69,000, the data shows.

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Despite steps taken in recent years to reduce benefits for new hires, Glendale is grappling with rising pension costs. Retirees are not only living longer, but many long-time workers benefited from guaranteed increased pensions approved nearly 13 years ago. That means the new changes, including a statewide cap on how much of one's salary is used to calculate a pension, may not have significant impacts for decades to come.

In addition, CalPERS rates charged to cities are set to increase in 2015, which could add an extra $10 million to $15 million to Glendale's pension bill, which grows every year.

Last year, Glendale's annual pension cost was about $30.6 million, but the city also has an unfunded liability — the difference between the assets it has and the cost of the promised benefits — of about $227 million.

What's more, the pension debate, in Glendale and nationally, has been exacerbated by the protracted recession. As the still-recovering economy continues to exert downward pressure on the retirements of private-sector citizens, empathy for public workers has waned, experts say.

"There's a lot of this sense of pension envy," said Diane Oakley, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security.

According to a study released in March by the research center, 82% of 800 respondents said all employees should have similar benefits as public employees.

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