More than 20 vie for spot on county’s new pension reform panel

Twenty one people are vying for seven spots on Sonoma County’s advisory panel on pension reform, a new committee that will wade into one of the region’s most difficult public policy challenges when it begins meeting later this year.

Among those who applied by Monday’s deadline were five members of the last, temporary pension panel and seven with some tie to organized labor. The remaining applicants included a “pretty good mix” of people from other backgrounds, including retirees, said Nikolas Klein, an administrative analyst in the County Administrator’s Office.

Once its work gets under way, the committee will seek to help the county reduce its rising employee pension costs, estimated this year at more than $107 million. Officials are also hoping to lower the county retirement system’s unfunded liabilities of roughly $750 million, a figure that includes long-term county obligations to the retirement fund as well as taxpayer debt from past pension bonds.

The citizens’ committee is charged with analyzing a comprehensive county report on the retirement system and presenting annual updates to the Board of Supervisors, which will include discussion of reform strategies from elsewhere that could be applicable in Sonoma County, among other duties.

Supervisors David Rabbitt and Shirlee Zane are expected to interview applicants late next month before recommending nominees to the full board for final approval in late July, Klein said.

“Twenty one, for me, when we’re trying to get seven, is a pretty good number,”…

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