The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District is known for providing some of the most generous employee benefits among local government agencies in the capital region. Turns out, they’re among the most generous in the state, too.
In 2016, 33 percent of Metro Fire pensioners received retirement income of $100,000 or more, the highest percentage of any government with 500 or more retirees in CalPERS, a Sacramento Bee review has found.
The government with the second-highest percentage, the city of Santa Clara, had 22 percent of its retirees with six-figure pensions. Besides Metro Fire, every other local government in the top 10 is in the Bay Area or Southern California.
At Metro Fire, 216 retirees received six-figure pensions, including 13 who were paid $200,000 or more.
Former deputy chief James Eastman, who retired in 2009, received the biggest Metro Fire annual pension of $240,653.
Police and fire employees generally receive higher pensions than other government employees because their retirement plans allow them to retire younger with a higher percentage of their wages than other government employees. Public-safety employees also tend to receive higher pay than most government employees, meaning they will receive a higher retirement income.
Increased benefits for public-safety employees generally were approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the public recognized the high risk and value of such employees, said Steve Maviglio of Californians for Retirement Security, a coalition representing government employees and retirees.
Critics say Metro Fire’s board of directors has made pension costs higher by consistently approving unaffordable compensation packages.
“We can’t sustain it,” said Marcia Fritz, a conservative activist who has advocated a rollback of pension benefits at Metro Fire and across the state. “I see a lot of stress ahead for Metro Fire.”
In a written statement, Metro Fire spokesman Capt. Chris Vestal said retirement benefits paid in 2016 reflect contracts reached “years and even decades ago.” In 2011, in the face of recessionary cuts, Metro Fire employees agreed to a five-year wage freeze and to pay a portion of their pension costs, he said. In 2016, Metro Fire stopped paying for the employee portion of pension costs.
Those changes were not enough for the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, which in 2014 cited employee compensation as a reason for opposing a proposed rate hike. Metro Fire abandoned the proposal.