By JOSH FRIEDMAN
As California grapples with soaring unfunded pension liabilities, which are wreaking havoc on local government budgets, the city of San Luis Obispo has a rapidly expanding six-figure pension club, and its retirees are now receiving average retirement pay of approximately $90,000 a year.
Pension costs are continuing to rise throughout the county, though SLO leads the pack with the highest average pension and the most retirees collecting pensions. Thus, the total amount of payments made to SLO retirees, which has surpassed $20 million a year, far exceeds that of the other cities.
Full-career retirees from SLO received an average pension of $89,705 in 2018, with the top earner now collecting more than $175,000 annually in retirement pay. About 50 retired workers now receive six-figure pensions, according to Transparent California.
At $79,529, Paso Robles retirees had the second highest average pension followed by Pismo Beach at $76,927. The average pensions for Morro Bay, Atascadero, Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande were respectively $74,227, $72,039, $69,573 and $69,010.
In 2018, a total of 412 retirees received pensions from SLO. Next in line, Paso Robles had a total of 137 retirees receiving pensions. At the other end, Grover Beach had just 43 pensioners.
Last year, the total amount of payments made to SLO retirees was about $21.5 million.
San Luis Obispo, like all other cities in the county, is part of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) and must make payments to the state agency to fund, in part, its pension plans.
SLO’s annual payments to CalPERS have increased to more than $10 million in recent years and are expected to exceed $20 million in the coming decade.
Pension costs are thus eating up a sizable percentage of the city budget, which currently totals $153 million. By comparison, SLO’s annual budget for paving roads in city neighborhoods is $7.6 million, or about half of what the city pays to CalPERS.
As is the case with other cities, San Luis Obispo is grappling with a decision made by the CalPERS board in late 2016 to lower its investment return forecasts. The decision forced agencies to increase their yearly contributions to CalPERS and resulted in SLO incurring a multi-million dollar budget shortfall.
Whereas the pensions of SLO retirees totaled $21.5 million, payments to retirees in Paso Robles, which cost the second most among SLO County cities, totaled only $6.1 million. Grover Beach retirees received the least, totaling just $1.5 million.
SLO’s highest earning pensioner is former city manager Ken Hampian. In 2018, Hampian received a pension of $175,366. Former city finance director Bill Statler received the second highest pension in 2018, $161,758.
Other notable SLO pensioners include current San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson. Last year, Parkinson received a pension of $128,752 from the city of SLO in addition to the pay he received from the county.
Likewise, now-Arroyo Grande Councilman Keith Storton collected a $151,367 pension from SLO. Both Parkinson and Storton reached the rank of SLO police captain before retiring from the San Luis Obispo force.
Even some former SLO council members collect pensions from the city. Former councilman John Ashbaugh received a pension last year of $7,179, more than some sitting city council members in SLO County collect in salary and benefits. Former mayor Jan Marx received a pension of $5,424 in 2018.
Former mayor Dave Romero, who had a long career with the city prior to getting elected mayor, received a pension of $101,076.
As of last year, every other city in the county has at least one member of the six-figure pension club. The three top pensioners from cities other than SLO are John De Rohan, the former Morro Bay police chief; Michael Hubert, the former Arroyo Grande fire chief; and Dennis Cassidy, the former Paso Robles police chief. De Rohan, Hubert and Cassidy respectively received pensions of $146,158, $145,430 and $144,784 in 2018.
Unlike the seven cities, San Luis Obispo County is not a member of CalPERS. Instead, it has its own boutique pension plan, which is self-funded by the county and its employees.
Leading in pension earnings, former treasurer-tax collector Frank Freitas collected $206,003 in retirement pay in 2016, the latest year for which county pensions figures are available on Transparent California.
One of the driving factors in the ballooning of public sector pensions is the increasingly high salaries that government workers receive. Cal Coast Times will soon report on the pay that local public officials are collecting.
Pension stats by city (2018)
San Luis Obispo:
47 six-figure pensioners
Top pensioner: Ken Hampian – $175,366
Total cost of pensions in 2018: $21.5 million*
$89,705 average pension**
12 six-figure pensioners
Top pensioner: Dennis Cassidy – $144,784
Total cost of pensions in 2018: $6.1 million*
$79,529 average pension**
5 six-figure pensioners
Top pensioner: Jeffrey Norton – $134,364
Total cost of pensions in 2018: $3 million*
$76,927 average pension**
7 six-figure pensioners
Top pensioner: John De Rohan – $146,158
Total cost of pensions in 2018: $4.5 million*
$74,227 average pension**
3 six-figure pensioners
Top pensioner: Kurt Stone – $126,064
Total cost of pensions in 2018: $3.5 million*
$72,039 average pension**
1 six-figure pensioners
Top pensioner: Jim Copsey – $110,549
Total cost of pensions in 2018: $1.5 million*
$69,573 average pension**
6 six-figure pensioners
Top pensioner: Michael Hubert – $145,430
Total cost of pensions in 2018: $4.2 million*
$69,010 average pension**
SLO County pension stats (2016)
77 six-figure pensioners
Top pensioner: Frank Freitas – $206,003
Total cost of pensions in 2018: $79.6 million*
$88,091 average pension**
* Total cost is the combined amount of all pensions received by retirees in the single year, not the amount the agency spent on retirement benefits or paid to CalPERS.
** Average pensions are for full-career retirees.