How the City of Fresno dodged the pension tsunami: providing comfortable, but not exorbitant benefits

Today, Transparent California released 2015 pension payout data from the City of Fresno Retirement Systems (CFRS) — the first time this information has ever been made available to the public.

The CFRS is the only major California public pension plan with a funded ratio over 100 percent and, consequently, enjoys a $289 million surplus rather than contributing to the state’s approximately $300 billion in combined unfunded liabilities.

As a result, the City of Fresno has avoided the pension crisis currently sweeping the state — which is forcing many governments to hike taxes and reduce government services as they spend a growing percentage of their budget on pension debt.

The reason for the unique success of the CFRS is simple: they promised only what they could afford to pay for, according to Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner.

“While most public pension plans offer exorbitant benefits without accounting for their cost, the CFRS consistently maintained benefits at an affordable level.”

The CFRS consists of two separate plans: the Fresno Police and Fire Retirement System serves safety employees and the Fresno Employees’ Retirement System covers non-safety employees.

The data reveals the average pension for a full-career retiree of the Fresno Police and Fire Retirement System was $70,627, while the average full-career retiree of the Fresno Employees’ Retirement System received $39,644.

Fresno County

At only 76 percent funded and with nearly $1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, the Fresno County Employees’ Retirement Association (FCERA) is more representative of the precarious situation most California governments are facing.

Fellner believes the dramatic difference between the fiscal health of the CFRS and FCERA can be understood by comparing the average pensions for each plan: The average $61,513 pension received by full-career, non-safety FCERA retirees was over 50 percent more than the $39,644 that Fresno City retirees received, according to just-released 2015 FCERA data posted on TransparentCalifornia.com.

“Naturally, there is a direct correlation between a pension plan’s richness and the cost to taxpayers.

“Fresno County will spend a staggering 52 percent of pay on retirement benefits, which is over triple the 16 percent rate that Fresno City pays, and over 17 times more than the 3 percent that the median private employer spends on employees’ retirement accounts.

“Unlike the inflated pensions found in Fresno County and most California governments, pensions at the City of Fresno are comparatively modest, illustrating that soaring pension costs are directly related to the generosity of the benefits promised.”

Fellner noted that both plans provided average full-career pensions that exceeded the $36,975 earned by the average private worker in Fresno County, according to 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

“Clearly retirement income greater than the average private worker’s salary is far from inadequate. By simply providing pensions that are comfortable instead of exorbitant, the City of Fresno enjoys one of the lowest — if not the lowest — retirement cost of any major California city.

“The City of Fresno serves as a direct refutation to the post-hoc, unfounded claim that bloated pensions are necessary to maintain a quality workforce.”

The surplus or unfunded liability as a percentage of covered payroll for Fresno-area public pension plans is displayed graphically below:


To see a chart detailing the total surplus or unfunded liability in dollar terms for Fresno-area public pension plans, click here.

Top payouts

The top 3 payouts at the Fresno Police and Fire Retirement System went to:

  1. Former fire captain Al Rush: $193,716
  2. Former fire battalion chief Bruce McDaniel: $176,791
  3. Former fire captain George Durham: $176,297

The top 3 payouts at the Fresno Employees’ Retirement System went to:

  1. Former parks supervisor II Pete Rocco: $154,950
  2. Former redevelopment administrator Eva Murphey: $149,940
  3. Former director of development Nick Yovino: $130,692

Full-career retirees are defined as those who retired with at least 30 years of service.

To view the entire dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, visit TransparentCalifornia.com.

To schedule an interview with Transparent California, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Categories: 2016, Press Releases

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