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Grand jury dings San Mateo County for failing to rein in sooaring pension costs

Original post made by Susan Smith on Apr 16, 2013

San Mateo County doesn't have enough money to cover promised retirement costs that could total $2 billion, not the $1 billion estimated by the agency managing employees' pension fund, a civil grand jury concluded in a report released Monday.

The county's unfunded pension liability is the "elephant in the room," San Mateo Civil Grand Jury Foreman Timothy Johnson Jr. told The Daily News on Monday.

"This problem is so huge. A billion or two billion," Johnson said. "All the numbers are appalling."

The San Mateo County Employees' Retirement Association (SamCERA), which handles the county's retirement program, told the grand jury that as of June 30, 2012, the unfunded liability figure was about $1.08 billion. But that assumes the association's assets will perform at a level which hasn't been reached in recent years, according to the civil grand jury.

However, when taking into account actual investment performance and current economic conditions, the grand jury projected a shortfall closer to $2 billion.

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Editor's note: Here is a link to the report (PDF): Web Link

Comments (14)

Posted by Michael G.Stogner, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2013 at 8:08 am

I recommended the Supervisors use most of Measure A tax income to pay down the unfounded debt, and that was when I thought it was just $1B.
SMC Grand Jury link
Web Link


Posted by Michael G. Stogner , a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2013 at 8:10 am

Unfunded debt.


Posted by William, a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:20 pm

To say 'appauling' is really an opinion. The pensions are the price to compensate talented people, as their incentive to keep their jobs, do them well and be reliable. Wait until pensions are squeezed out...it will be difficult to attract and retain talent.


Posted by Me, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Almost no major company offers pensions any more....there will be plenty of people to fill jobs...adequate salaries are enough to attract talented people, hopefully more talented than the fools who got us in to this mess.....are they going to get a pension???


Posted by Janet, a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:32 pm

William: Many of the county employees are quite definitely NOT talented and do not serve the public interest. Many of them are incompetent but they can only be fired with difficulty. They are way overcompensated according to the private sector and no one nowadays gets defined pensions, let alone paid health insurance for life. The County has approx. $1.8 billion for a budget and about 75% of that gets sucked up by employees, many of the higher echelons of which have received substantial raises. A good number of them are also double dippers - especially in the Sheriff's dept.


Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:40 pm

It is not hard to understand why politicians and public employees enjoy looting the taxpayer. What is hard to understand is why so many intelligent citizens continue to vote for those who practice such behavior.


Posted by Will , a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I think Janet hit the nail on the head ! So true !


Posted by William, a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Doesn't take much for the insults to take root. If someone has dedicated their life to a particular employment and then takes those talents elsewhere, why not? Is it because they were smart enough to do so?

So much is taken for granted such as clean water, consistent delivery of electricity, public safety...when these fail...it will be interesting to see who will be calling whom incompetent.


Posted by Leslie Stepp, a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Apr 16, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Here is a link to the report:

Web Link

Pretty disturbing.


Posted by Michael G Stogner, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm

The Grand Jury further recommends that the Board of Supervisors give priority to the funding of SamCERA's unfunded liability over other new or expanded programs;

I think that is a very good idea.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 16, 2013 at 7:23 pm

That's where that additional 1/2 cent sales tax ought to go. Keep our county solvent instead of giving it away to a bunch of special interests. Of course, going to special interests is where it will likely go, but one can hope.


Posted by Leslie Stepp, a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Apr 17, 2013 at 6:33 am

The leadership of the County, the Cities and Towns within our County, and their associated Boards seem to be seriously lacking the financial acumen to even figure out the questions to ask to know what the basic elements of the budgets are they are responsible for creating, working, and approving. Given the incredible intellectual capital and financial expertise in our area, there is no excuse for this. Time to vote all these people out, and replace them with qualified leaders for our communities, for the benefit of our communities. Enough of leaders who write checks our children can not cash.


Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 17, 2013 at 12:07 pm

The idea that this outcome is the result of lack of financial acumen on the part of the powerful is, I think, a rather optimistic one.

The true issue is that our political structure provides many incentives for short term thinking, can-kicking, and self-dealing behavior. If a pension promise can be made today and funded some years from now, most voters don't notice, except for the corrupt beneficiaries. So that's the kind of policy that politicians provide.

Combine with the quasi-religious fervor many voters feel for the magnificence of government, and you have the recipe for stagnation and decline that we observe today.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 19, 2013 at 10:47 am

This is very true. But the County is not the only government entity with unfunded liabilities. I wonder about all the other government agencies in San Mateo County as well as the state.

Some of the agencies are tied to Calpers. See the letter written by Henry Riggs and Roy Thiele-Sarnida about a potential cost increase: Web Link


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