CA County to Battle Deputies' Pensions

February 1, 2008 ( - Faced with an estimated $2.3-billion pension fund shortfall, the Orange County (CA) Board of Supervisors has decided to legally challenge part of its pension agreement with sheriff's deputies.

A Los Angeles Times news report said the officials contend the county can no longer afford the expense and that by repealing part of the labor pact, Orange County could save $187 million over the next several decades.The board voted to move forward over the objections of interim Sheriff Jack Anderson who said the move would harm the county’s ability to recruit talented deputies.

Board Chairman John Moorlach, who previously served as county treasurer, spearheaded the move to revise the agreement. Moorlach has been pushing for pension reforms a long time because of what he said were overly generous deals, the Times said.

According to the news report, the contested provisions allowed deputies to retire at age 50 with annual pension payments totaling 3% of their highest year’s pay multiplied by their years of service – an increase from 2% under the previous deal – and granted the benefit retroactively. Moorlach’s office estimated the deal augmented individual pensions by a third, allowing deputies to retire with a pension, on average, of $70,000 a year.

Supervisors now claim the provision violated the state Constitution’s prohibitions on deficit spending and gifts of public funds because the retroactive portion created a pension shortfall and gave extra pay for work already performed.

In response, union President Wayne Quint said: “Uncertainty? There was no uncertainty until John Moorlach and his chief of staff cooked this up last summer. It’s disingenuous. It’s hypocritical.”

The deputies’ union plans to join the case as an interested party and fight the effort. According to the Times report, the county spent more than half a million dollars to hire four law firms for advice on the case last year.