Placer County’s $100,000 club: 21 retirees receiving six-figure pensions

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A total of 21 retired Placer County employees are receiving more than $100,000 a year in CalPERS pensions. The list – from California Pension Reform’s online “CalPERS 100K Club” database – includes two former County CEOs, five retired sheriff’s deputies, a former assessor and many longtime county managers. Lake of the Pines resident Gerri Curtis said the question she is asking has been “How much is too much?” “That’s kind of unheard of,” Curtis said, as she perused the list of 21 Placer County pensioners receiving more than $100,000 annually. A check with the Personnel Department showed that the 21 are at the top of the list of pension beneficiaries among 1,325 Placer retirees. As well as a pension, Placer County retirees are eligible for lifetime medical and dental benefits. This year, the county will pay just short of $12 million for retiree health benefits – an average of $9,056 per retired employee. The county has also budgeted $469,000 for retiree dental benefits Those two retiree benefits make up 1.68 percent of the county budget, according to Personnel Department calculations. This year’s proposed budget is $739 million. Retired California Highway Patrol officer Ken Armbruster said he pulls in just about $40,000 from his own pension and Social Security, and recently learned he wouldn’t be receiving a cost-of-living adjustment. Armbruster pointed to recent revelations that a city manager in the Southern California community of Bell was making almost $800,000 a year and would be making close to that in annual pension as an example of how far salaries and pensions can rise. “It’s obscene some of those salaries they’re getting,” Armbruster said. “But I don’t think they’ll be changing anything when the people making the laws are drawing some of the biggest salaries – the left hand washes the right.” Armbruster said he’d like to see some of the larger pensions come down. Vance Kimbrell retired five months ago from Placer County’s Department of Facility services as a principal planner. His yearly retirement income has been identified as $111,279 and he said that appears to be about right. “It is what it is,” Kimbrell said. “I worked a long time and was dedicated to my job. When I signed on with the county I was making more in my previous job.” Former County CEO Don Lunsford retired in 2002 after almost 30 years with the county. His annual pension was identified as $116,441. Lunsford said public service is different from private-sector employment. One major difference is a steady income through good and bad years but no bonus program, he said. “I know someone at Intel, for example, whose bonus is equal to his annual pay,” Lunsford said. “Given the nature of the job, the responsibilities, the hours of service and almost 30 years, I don’t apologize to anyone,” Lunsford said. Lunsford said he has been following the debate over pension reform that has revolved around increasing the retirement age and “spikes” that occur in the last year of a retiree’s career. “For example, if a board wants to get rid of an executive, they give him a salary spike that increases his pension,” Lunsford said. “Future boards and the taxpayers have to deal with that and that’s not right.” The ex-county CEO said he would favor a tiered formula with a ceiling for top executives to prevent counties from adding extra money to “spike” pensions. Lunsford said there were years when CalPERS investments were doing well with its investments but calculations on future income missed the mark in recent years. “Right now, we’re in a down time and people are looking appropriately at how it works,” he said. The Placer County retirees are among 9,111 retired state or local government workers in California now receiving pensions in excess of $100,000, states. The highest pension is being collected by city of Vernon retiree Bruce Malkenhorst, who receives $509,664 annually, according to the website. Curtis, 81, said she and her husband have comparatively small pensions. Her husband is an ex-deputy fire chief and receives $1,700 a month. The two have a house and money to travel in a motorhome, she said. Barbara Alves, 90, also of Lake of the Pines, said that when you’re retired, you can make do with a lot less. “Why do they get that amount – there are a lot of sheriff’s department people on the list,” Alves said. “”I get $1,700 a month and I’m doing just fine.” ---------------------------------------------- The $100,000 club ---------------------------------------------- Placer County has 21 retirees receiving $100,000 or more annually in CalPERS pension. They are: - John Addoms, Placer County Sheriff’s captain: $105,158 - Rick Armstrong, Placer County Sheriff’s captain: $125,117 - Joe Bertoni, District Attorney investigator: $115,636 - Jan Christofferson, County CEO: $115,845 - Chalmer De Cecco, Sheriff’s Office deputy: $118,767 - Bruce Dear, County Assessor: $116,171 - Rick Dondro, Public Works Department deputy director: $119,585 - Bob Dunstan, Health & Human Services manager: $113,180 - John Fitzgerald, Placer County Sheriff’s Office deputy: $123,302 - Karl Fulenwider, Sheriff’s captain: $135,566 - Cliff Gessner, District Attorney’s office: $108,031 - Daniel Gong, Placer County District Attorney’s Office assistant district attorney: $108,166 - Vance Kimbrell, Facility Services Department principal planner: $111,279 - Don Lunsford, County CEO: $116,441 - John Marin, Community Development Resource Agency director: $110,287 - Pamela Martell, Health and Human Services psychiatrist: $105,788 - Rod Merydith, Placer County Sheriff’s Office deputy: $116,964 - Ray Merz, Health and Human Services Director: $132,805 - Guy Smyth, Health and Human Services psychiatrist: $162,632 - Peter Vanauken, Health and Human Services psychiatrist: $102,436 - Fred Yeager, Planning Director: $116,982 Source:, Auburn Journal file information ------------------------------------------ Spiking the pension spikes ------------------------------------------ State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, has introduced a bill to curtail pension spiking in California. His bill would: - Require an individual’s pension be evaluated by a series of steps to deter employees from padding retirement with one-time bonuses, end of career “promotions,” and accrued vacation time. - A 2007 study by San Francisco’s non-profit Pacific Research Institute estimated pension spiking costs California taxpayers roughly $100 million each year. - Also help close a revolving door of “double dippers,” employees who retire with substantial pensions and then go back to work in government, often at the same agency. Employees would have to wait half a year after retiring to get another state job. Source: Sen. Joe Simitian’s office - Gus Thomson