$228 million error has county pension officials on the hot seat
2011-02-26 - 05:30:43 - Current News
Two high-ranking officials at the Orange County Employees Retirement System have been placed on paid leave in connection with a $228 million mistake that has resulted in multi-million dollar pension catch-up bills for agencies countywide. In particular, the Orange County Fire Authority has been handed a catch-up bill of $76 million ? the amount of contributions that went uncollected for eight years for ?special pay? stipends for paramedics, EMT?s, and others with specialized jobs. ?To get a bill like that was devastating,? said Joe Kerr, president of the 800-member Orange County Professional Firefighters. ?How could this oversight have gone on for so many years?? OCERS has agreed to let the firefighters pay the bill over a 25-year period, at $4.5 million a year, beginning in July, said Lori Zeller, OCFA assistant chief of business services. The county will pay up to $7 million a year extra to make up for the uncollected contributions owed by county agencies for other county employees. The county?s share of the shortfall in contributions is $120 million, including deputies and others from the sheriff?s department. The rest is spread among the other agencies that belong to OCERS. OCERS Assistant CEO Steve Cadena and Finance Officer Michelle Williamson were put on leave Feb. 18 while the agency conducts an audit on the massive mistake. Chief executive Steve Delaney said the action was taken to allow auditors to work unhampered. Cadena earns $154,668.80 annually and Williamson makes $112,569.40. Pensions themselves were not affected by the mistake, officials said. ?We are working with OCERS to sort through it all and they are doing reviews to make sure it doesn?t happen again,? Zeller said. OCERS serves 12,800 retirees with a fund of $8.6 billion. Delaney said the mistake began when the agency installed new pension administration software in 2003. The computers started missing the premium pay portion of the members? salaries. Billing rates were set on that inaccurate information, according to an April 2010 letter to the Board of Supervisors. County supervisor John Moorlach said the mistake was especially frustrating. ?We?re fighting the pension battle and then there?s a problem with the software,? Moorlach said.