Council gets a report on city’s pension liabilities — got $54 million?

Daily Post Staff Writer

The Menlo Park City Council last night (Nov. 13) expressed interest in putting aside more money to pay down its employee pension debt.

The city has a $54.5 million unfunded pension liability, actuary Doug Pryor told the council.

All three council members present at last night’s pension study session seemed interested in paying some of the city’s future budget surpluses to CalPERS, the state pension system, in order to decrease the city’s debt.

Budget impact

However, Mayor Peter Ohtaki asked Finance Director Dan Jacobson and Pryor to look into how paying off the pension debt would further impact the city’s budget.

“We can’t just look at the pension question without looking at everything else and our competing needs,” said Ohtaki. “There’s one side that says if we want to pay down our liability by $20 million in 10 years we have to put down an extra $2 million a year, but then we’re (using) $2 million that we could spend on the Belle Haven library or other things.”

But whether the payments would be in one-time chunks or in addition to what the city already sends CalPERS every year is to be determined.

Two council members absent

No decisions were made last night because it was a study session when votes aren’t allowed. Also, two of the five council members were absent from last night’s study session.

Of the three who were present, only Ray Mueller will be on council next year. Ohtaki and Kirsten Keith were both defeated in the re-election bids on Tuesday.

Catherine Carlton and Rich Cline were absent. Cline arrived for a council meeting that began an hour later.

Mueller requested that all of the information presented by Pryor be put in a report and given to the new council members. Mueller and Keith also asked Finance Manager Dan Jacobson to prepare some recommendations as to how the city could further pay down its debt.

Grand jury report

Menlo Park is not the only city looking at doing some budget gymnastics in order to pay off its pension debt. Over the summer, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury issued a report asking for all cities and towns in the county to make a plan as to how they will pay down their debts.

In Santa Clara County, Palo Alto has a $415 million unfunded liability as of June 2017 and is also working to trim down that liability.

Measure L in 2010

Menlo Park in 2010 overwhelmingly passed Measure L. which lowered pension benefits for new hires and raises the retirement age from 55 to 60 for everyone but police. The passage of Measure L marked a movement among cities to reduce the benefits offered in their pension programs.