Pub­lic work­ers los­ing re­tire­ment pen­sions

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY WIL­LIAM ROLLER Staff Writer

NILAND — Niland San­i­tary District pub­lic work­ers are in dan­ger of los­ing the ma­jor­ity or en­tirety of their re­tire­ment pen­sion fund be­cause prior ad­min­is­tra­tive lead­er­ship ne­glected to pay into the state’s largest re­tire­ment fund in more than a year.

NSD owes CalPERS $194,253 and with no res­o­lu­tion in sight, CalPERS is tak­ing steps to ter­mi­nate NSD’s con­tract.

CalPERS is set to take a vote on the con­tract ter­mi­na­tion next week.

If the con­tract is ter­mi­nated, NSD’s five em­ploy­ees will see ei­ther 91 per­cent or 100 per­cent of their pen­sions cut ac­cord­ing to CalPERS re­ports.

It’s an­other blow to res­i­dents in the city after news of the dis­so­lu­tion of the NSD came to light re­cently.

The Im­pe­rial County is likely to take con­trol of the be­lea­guered district as the Lo­cal Area For­ma­tion Com­mis­sion voted re­cently to dis­solve the strug­gling district.

The only way NSD em­ploy­ees could keep their pen­sion is if NSD pays a hefty can­cel­la­tion fee up front and then CalPERS moves the district into a low- risk fund called the ter­mi­nated agency pool. That ter­mi­na­tion fee was not dis­closed by CalPERS.

Ryan Kel­ley, Im­pe­rial County District 4 su­per­vi­sor re­marked that in 1995 NSD took a vote to en­ter into CalPERS and sent no­ti­fi­ca­tion yet never made a pay­ment.

In March 2016 NSD sent no­tice to CalPERS it wanted to with­draw from the pen­sion sys­tem.

“I’m sure it’s be­cause they couldn’t meet the obli­ga­tions of the monthly bills,” said Kel­ley. “Im­pe­rial County is try­ing to re­solve that obli­ga­tion be­cause they never got any ben­e­fits out of CalPERS.

It’s hard for a small san­i­ta­tion district to come up with the rev­enue. But we’re try­ing to help them cope with the obli­ga­tion and get re­con­sid­er­a­tion for all th­ese debts.”

The is­sue came to light at CalPERS only after one of the NSD em­ploy­ees phoned the pen­sion fund to in­quire about his sta­tus.

The county is set to have a reg­u­lar meet­ing Tues­day but no item re­gard­ing the Niland San­i­tary District is sched­uled.

Pre­vi­ous loans by the Im­pe­rial County

There is also an­other fi­nan­cial bur­den that com­pli­cates NSD’s abil­ity to pay.

As re­ported pre­vi­ously in the Press, the Board of Su­per­vi­sors on Jan­uary 24 ap­proved a $934,753 loan to NSD to help elim­i­nate li­a­bil­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with the Cal­i­for­nia Re­gional Water Qual­ity Con­trol Board fines due to com­pli­ance vi­o­la­tions, half the cost of a fa­cil­ity up­grade de­sign, as well as $118,000 in out­stand­ing debt the district owed CalPERS.

How­ever, the loan was con­tin­gent on NSD in­creas­ing its sewer rates and needed a ma­jor­ity of votes by its 538 par­cel own­ers. Two votes were held, in April and July and both failed.

Len­nita Ozier, is a NSD di­rec­tor and the lone vote against a rate hike at the be­gin­ning of the year. Ozier re­marked res­i­dents un­der­stand NSD needs money to come into com­pli­ance, but in­di­vid­u­als lack the in­come to pay for it.

As an ex­am­ple she cited the Oa­sis Mo­bile Vil­lage, a trailer park where she works as project man­ager. Their cur­rent an­nual sewer bill is $16,000, but it would rise to more than $63,000 un­der pro­posed rates.

“That won’t fly with any­body,” said Ozier. “Mer­chants are aban­don­ing Niland be­cause peo­ple can’t af­ford to do busi­ness here. I’ve been on the board a year, but main­te­nance of the sewer sys­tem had been ne­glected long be­fore I ar­rived.”

Kel­ley noted grants to come into com­pli­ance have been ex­tended, but they will not con­tinue for­ever.

“We’re as­sist­ing NSD to reeval­u­ate and come up with plans that have less im­pact on sewer rates,” he said. “But there still has to be some in­crease to stay in com­pli­ance with RWQCB.”

CalPERS

The CalPERS re­tire­ment pro­gram builds re­tire­ment and health se­cu­rity for state, school and pub­lic agency mem­bers. Along with Cal­i­for­nia’s town and coun­ties there are 118,488 spe­cial districts that in­clude fire pro­tec­tion, tran­sit, util­ity water and san­i­ta­tion districts, of which Niland San­i­tary District is one.

CalPERS has about 68 per­cent of the as­sets to pay all of the ben­e­fits it owes to its mem­bers im­me­di­ately. A new CalPERS fi­nan­cial as­sess­ment finds 16 of its mem­bers have less than 60 per­cent of the as­sets it needs to fund full re­tire­ment for its em­ploy­ees.

The sun sets be­hind the Niland San­i­tary District.

MARIO RENTERA FILE PHOTO

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