BELL, Calif. — Cities across Southern California will be on the hook for the pensions paid to municipal officials in Bell, where excessive salaries led to a recent purge of city leaders, according to pension experts.
The Los Angeles Times reports that more than half of former city manager Robert Rizzo's $600,000-a-year pension will be paid by taxpayers in 140 small cities and special districts that are in the same pension liability pool. This includes Glendale, Simi Valley, Ventura, Norco, La Canada Flintridge and Goleta, as well as Rizzo's former employers, Hesperia and Rancho Cucamonga.
In the case of Bell's former police chief, Randy Adams, the city is only responsible for 3 percent of his estimated $411,300-a-year pension under CalPERS, the state's public employee retirement plan. Taxpayers in Glendale, Simi Valley and Ventura would have to pick up the rest.
Critics of the state's complex pension system are pointing to the scandal in Bell as an example of why the CalPERS should be overhauled. An estimated 90 percent of public agencies in California participate in the system.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the two gubernatorial candidates, Meg Whitman and Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, are urging reforms in the system.
"Even the governor's office couldn't figure these Bell pensions out," said Marcia Fritz, a certified public accountant and president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility.
Even though Rizzo and Adam's salaries were relatively modest until they were hired in Bell, other cities will be responsible for much of their pension costs. When they resigned last week, Rizzo was making nearly $800,000 a year and Adams was making $457,000.
Bell hired Adams at more than double the salary he was making in Glendale. That salary spike also doubled his eligible pension amount under CalPERS. City managers in Glendale and Simi Valley, where Adams previously worked, estimate they'll have to come up with an extra $40,000 in taxpayer dollars each year to cover the pension costs. Ventura's tab could go much higher.
"We had no control over his final year's salary," said Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird. "Yet the rest of us will be bearing the brunt of Bell's decision."
CalPERS last week said it is putting both men's pensions on hold pending multiple investigations into Bell's salaries. Glendale and Ventura have sent letters to the attorney general supporting investigations.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com