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Pension and Retiree Health

Overview

Welcome to our “one-stop-shop” for community members interested in information on post-employment benefits. Below are links to hundreds of pages of financial data and information regarding our financial assets and liabilities, pension reform actions, and retiree health reform actions. Please see the box “By the Numbers” for a brief summary of current assets and liabilities.

In short, we offer our employees two post-employment benefits: a pension and a contribution towards retiree health care costs (also referred to as other post-employment benefits, or “OPEB”). Both of these benefits have been significantly reduced since the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (PEPRA), which took effect in January 2013.

We are committed to financial transparency and have provided this information to make available financial details and answer questions.

Actuarial Valuations

Pension

The most recent pension actuarial valuation was prepared as of June 30, 2019. This valuation governs the employer and employee contribution rates for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020. This valuation (produced in February 2020) reports our pension funded ratio to be 77.3%.  The funding ratio is expected to improve over time, as the unfunded liability is paid down; however varying investment returns will result in fluctuations to the ratio.  The City, via MCERA, has a funding strategy in place based on sound actuarial practices that will ensure the long-term viability of the retirement plan.

The City of San Rafael’s contribution rate is projected to gradually decline through 2029 as deferred investment gains from the prior years are recognized and PEPRA members become a larger proportion of the active member population.  In 2030 a significant reduction is projected to take place as the unfunded liability from the original amortization base established in 2013 is paid down.  This unfunded liability represents the excess of the Plan’s actuarial liability over the actuarial value of assets per the June 30, 2009 valuation following the Great Recession.  At that time, the MCERA Board took action to indicate that beginning with the June 30, 2013 valuation this liability would be amortized over a 17-year closed period.  The unfunded liability currently makes up 41.57% of the total 60.77% employer contribution rate for fiscal year 2020-2021, thus once the unfunded liability is fully amortized the City will experience a substantial reduction in contribution rate, currently projected for 2030.

Pension Graph 2020-07-01 124802

See this overview as part of the June 30, 2019 valuation

OPEB (Retiree Medical)

The most recent OPEB actuarial valuation was prepared as of June 30, 2019. This report calculates the unfunded liability at $26.5 million at June 30, 2019. A GASB 75 Accounting Information report will be prepared for June 30, 2019 and used in the preparation of the City’s financial statements for fiscal year 2019-2020.

The information provided below is intended to demystify the impact of pension and retiree health benefits in San Rafael.

Just the Basics

We negotiate employee compensation agreements with multiple unions under a number of state and federal laws.  We strive to provide a competitive salary/benefit package to attract and retain a highly qualified workforce while maintaining a balanced city budget.

Since PEPRA took effect in 2013 benefits offered to new employees have been greatly reduced. According to a March 24, 2013 analysis of our pension and retiree health reforms to date and found that our actions will result in a savings of $132 million over the next 30 years.

More Information About San Rafael Pensions and Retiree Health Benefits

The City Council has taken a number of decisive steps towards reducing post employment benefit costs including significantly reducing employee pension and retiree healthcare benefits. Here are some facts in the form of frequently asked questions:

Beginning with the fiscal year 2011-2012 adjusted budget, our annual budgets have included the full, actuarially determined contributions to pension and retiree medical plans, without the use of reserves; further, our multi-year forecast assumes the continuation of this full funding approach.  In short, for the first time in several years, we are fully funding our pension and retiree health plans with current operating revenues.

We have also taken clear and decisive steps to reduce pension and retiree health liabilities and have put plans in motion to ensure sustainability of employee benefits while continuing to offer the services our community expects.  (Examples of steps include new, lower benefit tiers; employees pay an average of 12.0% of salary towards their pensions; changes to prevent “pension spiking;” creation of an irrevocable trust for retiree health assets; and reducing the retiree health benefit for new hires to the lowest level allowed by law).

For a complete summary of retiree healthcare reforms as of summer 2013,  see our response to a Grand Jury report on retiree healthcare throughout Marin.

In 2019, the City Council’s ad hoc Pension / Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB)  Committee , which includes Mayor Phillips and Councilmember Gamblin,  formed an advisory committee, referred to as the “Independent Committee on Employee Retirement Benefits” to review and prepare a written report that includes an analysis of the options available to the City to further our pension/OPEB reform goals. The 2019 report, which was presented to the City Council at the August 5, 2019 meeting, is a follow-up to an earlier report from 2014 regarding the same topic.

Yes.  The City Council approved a pension and retiree health reform resolutionon May 7, 2012.  This resolution not only includes pension policies going forward, but also a listing of the many pension reform measures taken as of the date of the report/resolution.

On June 3, 2013, the City Council approved a pension funding policy based on the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) recommended best practices.

 

We are projected to save approximately $132 million in future (30 year period) pension and retiree health benefit costs based on the changes made at the municipal and state level over the last several years.

Due to our reform efforts around retiree health, our unfunded liability has been reduced by 40% over the past few years.

Comparisons are useful only if the jurisdictions have similar pension models and employee make-up.  For example, CalPERS has historically amortized liabilities over 30 years and the Marin County Employees’ Retirement Association (MCERA) uses 17 years.  This means that MCERA members, such as the City of San Rafael, are required to pay a greater percentage of its liability each year than a CalPERS agency with similar unfunded liability.

Size and make-up of workforce (e.g., safety versus non-safety employees) can also distort the data.  Police and Fire employees (safety employees) generally have higher compensation structures, thus agencies with a greater percentage of safety employees have greater pension costs relative to agencies with lower percentage of safety employees.   These and other issues need to be factored to get a true “apples to apples” comparison.  Otherwise, the comparisons are misleading and can lead to inaccurate conclusions.

The average pension amount for San Rafael retirees was $45,480 as of June 30, 2014, and $47,735 as of June 30, 2015, per the participant data found in the Marin County Employee’s Retirement Association (MCERA) Actuarial Valuation as of June 30, 2015 (prepared on April 6, 2016).

By the Numbers

    • A full discussion of retiree obligations must include both pension and retiree health and consider assets as well as liabilities.  Below are the current approximate numbers for San Rafael as of the most recent actuarial valuations:
      • Pension Assets:
        San Rafael Pension Assets:  $467.4 million
        Pension Fund Set-Aside Assets:  $2.0 million
        Total Pension Assets:  $469.4 million
      • Pension Liabilities:
        San Rafael Pension Liabilities:  $604.6 million
        Pension Bond Debt:  $3.3 million
        Total Pension Debt:  $607.9 million
        77.2% funded ratio
      • Retiree Health Assets:
        San Rafael Retiree Health Total Assets:  $21.8 million
      • Retiree Health Liabilities:
        San Rafael Retiree Health Total Liabilities:  $48.2 million
        1% funded ratio

      The above means that, like most plans in California, current obligations exceed current assets, creating an “unfunded liability.”  This liability is paid off over time between contributions and investment returns.

      Data Sources: 

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