News of Important Issues Affecting AMCRE Members and
All Mendocino County Retired Employees


This is the page for breaking news of issues that may be of immediate concern to AMCRE members and other Mendocino County retired employees. We urge you to check here to keep up to date. Of course, we'll continue to write about issues in The Connection but that only comes out six four times a year.


ATTENTION AMCRE MEMBERS:

Some of you may, no doubt, already have a Lifetime Senior National Park pass. For those who do not, a great bargain will be ending very soon. Please see information and link below.

Please be advised that the discount for a lifetime senior national park pass for $10.00 is ending effective August 28, 2017. The $10.00 price is good at all national parks when you sign up in person.

August 28, 2017 is your last opportunity to sign up for a lifetime senior national park pass. It's $10 now, but goes up to $80 after Monday. The $10 price is good at all national parks when you sign up in person. If you sign up online, it's $20. It will probably take 6-8 weeks to receive this way, however. This link takes you to an article explaining more and gives a link for signing up online.

SCHOLARSHIP ANNOUNCEMENT

The members of the Association of Mendocino County Retired Employees (A.M.C.R.E.) are proud to announce we are now offering four $500.00 scholarships for the children or grandchildren of Mendocino County Retirees who are members in good standing with A.M.C.R.E. Each scholarship will be paid in two installments, one at the beginning of each semester, with proof of enrollment.

Applicants must be graduating seniors or returning college students who are planning to further their education through an accredited college, university or trade school.

To apply write a one page essay, which should include the name of his or her parent or grandparent who is a member of A.M.C.R.E. and the department from which he or she is retired, and information about the applicant's interests and which school and field they plan to work toward. Application should also include a copy of the AMCRE Scholarship Application which is available at the AMCRE Website (AMCRE.org) and their high school or college transcript (to date) and two letters of recommendation from high school teachers, college or trade school teachers, or administrators. Mail 3 complete packets to Tim Knudsen, Scholarship Chairman, 1489 Fawnwood Drive, Ukiah CA, 95482. If you have any further questions, please contact Tim at 707-621-4329.

Applications must be received by May 31, 2017. Successful applicants will be invited to attend a presentation at a future meeting. If winners do not live in the immediate area they will be invited to attend either by phone or telecommunication.


MARK YOUR CALENDARS:

AMCRE Board of Directors are working on planning the summer picnic for Monday, August 14th at the Redwood Valley Lions Park. We always plan it for 5:00 p.m. when there is a beautiful breeze to keep us cool. AMCRE will be paying for our dinner once again and Chuck Thornhill, along with Tom Liberatore, will be our chefs. Menu will be announced in the next newsletter, but please mark the date on your calendars so you will be sure to attend. Also be on your toes, because Sue Thornhill is working on planning a fun game since the "12 Days of Christmas" went over so well at the holiday party last December. Be sure you bring your own drinks to the picnic.

COLA FOR 2017

Remember your retirement check you received on April 30th (28th this year) will be 2-1/2% larger than the previous month. Thank you Tim Knudsen for representing us at the Retirement Board and doing your best to change the board members minds to stay with the greater bay area consumer price index. Even though the Retirement Board voted to change how our cost of living is calculated, we still are above the national average and as we all know Social Security.

HOLIDAY PARTY 2017

Once again, AMCRE reserved the Broiler Steakhouse for our holiday party which will be held on Monday, December 11, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. The cost will be the same as last year. Details will come in the Winter newsletter. Please mark your calendars.

SCHOLARSHIPS

Please see the SCHOLARSHIP tab above and encourage your graduating seniors or already in college kids or grandchildren to check out our Scholarship Program. All applications to win a $500 Scholarship are due to Tim Knudsen no later than May 31, 2017. All information is under the SCHOLARSHIP tab.

MCERA NEWS RELEASE REGARDING CHANGE IN COLA DETERMINATION BENCHMARK

3 DECEMBER 2014: Please read this news release which summarizes MCERA's action to change the way annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) for Mendocino County retirees' pension benefits will henceforth be determined. This change is likely result in lower adjustments, which will affect all future retirement benefits. Note in the press release, in the first paragraph, the link to the full 19-page analysis which purports to justify this change.

ADVANCE ANNOUNCEMENT OF AMCRE SUMMER PICNIC & BARBECUE

SUMMER 2015: AMCRE Secretary Cyndi Montesonti asked me to post the minutes from the 18 May 2015 AMCRE meeting to give website readers advance information about the annual summer picnic as the next newsletter won't be out for a while. What I'm posting here is just the portion of the minutes that pertains to the picnic:

President Sue Thornhill explained the summer picnic needed to be changed to July if they wanted Sue and Chuck to cook, because they will be gone all of August and September. The new date will be Wednesday, July 29th at 5:00 p.m. at the Lion's Park in Redwood Valley. AMCRE will be providing all the food and water; therefore, the only thing you need to bring is yourself, your own beverage, beer or wine. More information will come out in the next newsletter.

MCERA NEWS RELEASE

3 DECEMBER 2014: Please read this news release about our amazingly qualified new retirement administrator!

MCERA ELECTION RESULTS 2014

24 SEPTEMBER 2014: The period to file candidacy for seats on the Board of Retirement passed on September 19, 2014. The following individuals were unopposed for the seats they were seeking, and will begin their three year terms on December 1, 2014: Kathryn Cavness, General Member, Tim Knudsen, Retirement Member and Richard Shoemaker, Retired Alternate. The Board of Supervisors will be asked to allow a unanimous ballot to be cast for each person in lieu of an election.

Jim Andersen, Interim Retirement Administrator

MCERA REORGANIZATION?

18 April 2012: 14 May 2012, I received a copy of the minutes from the 18 April meeting of Mendocino County Employees Retirement Association (MCERA). Hot upon the heals of its announcement of the appointment of Rich White as the new Retirement Administrator, I noted this very interesting item, potentially adding a new, high-pay position to the MCERA budget:

4) Staff will prepare a report on the possible reorganization of MCERA to include a full time fiscal officer with a title and salary commensurate with the duties of an independent agency, including the unique responsibilities such as independent financial statements, external audit, CAFR, State Controller's Office reporting, etc. We hope to complete the report for the May meeting as it may impact the budget for 2012/13.
The minutes of the May 2012 meeting should make interesting reading...

MCERA NEWS RELEASE--NEW HIRE

19 April 2012: The attached news release from Mendocino County Employees Retirement Association (MCERA) announces the appointment of Rich White as the new Retirement Administrator, following Jim Anderson's retirement.

SPECIAL ELECTION RESULTS

6 DEC 11: The election for the alternate seat is over. Richard Shoemaker was unopposed and will be appointed December 6.

SPECIAL ELECTION TO FILL RETIRED MEMBER ALTERNATE ON MCERA BOARD

14 OCT 11: The Retirement Board election deadline came and went with no retiree filing for the Retired Member Alternate seat on the Board of Directors of MCERA. As no one has filed for the Retiree Member Alternate position (currently held by Tim Knudsen), the Board of Retirement is announcing a Special Election to to fill the vacancy.

This position is critical for adequate representation at the Retirement Board for Retirees at this crucial time when MCERA is making unexpected decisions and taking actions which have dramatic effects upon our benefits!

CANDIDATES NEEDED FOR ALTERNATE MCERA BOARD MEMBER TO REPRESENT RETIREES!

5 OCT 11: The Retirement Board elections are upon us. Two candidates have filed for the main Retiree Member position (Tim Knudsen and Richard Shoemaker) but no one has filed for the Retiree MemberAlternate position, currently held by Tim Knudsen. This position is critical for adequate representation at the Retirement Board for Retirees at this crucial time when MCERA is making unexpected decisions and taking actions which have dramatic effects upon our benefits! Please read this announcment and consider submitting your name as a candidate for the Alternate position on the MCERA Board for 2012. Your benefits are at stake!
Edited 14 OCT 11:
Please note that this announcment about the election has been superceded. No one filed candidacy for the Alternate Member position so the Board of Retirement is announcing a Special Election to to fill the vacancy (see newer announcment above).

AMCRE & SCARE Co-Host the CRCEA 2011 Fall Conference in Santa Rosa!

22 SEP 11: The California Retired County Employees Association is the umbrella organization for all the retirees associations of 1937-Act Counties, of which Mendocino is one. Each year, CRCEA hosts two conferences to help the individual associations connect and keep abreast of issues of mutual interest and importance. The spring conference is hosted by a southern California county and the fall conference by one in northern California. This fall, AMCRE is pairing with Sonoma County's SCARE to co-host the conference, which is being held in Santa Rosa, in October.

AMCRE President Tom Libaratore had this to say about the conference:

AMCRE members, who are concerned about their future and where things might be going, will want to consider attending the upcoming 2011 CRCEA Fall Conference on October 24-26 at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel in Santa Rosa. The attendance fee for AMCRE members is $10 but they do require folks to pre-register so please use the form enclosed in the newsletter. We will have more info at the general meeting on Tuesday the 11th but here is a short synopsis to give you an idea of some of the topics to be discussed. After the Tom & Dan show, the keynote speaker is Dave Jones, State Insurance Commissioner, followed by Valerie Brown, member of the White House Forum on health care, speaking on Health Care Issues. There will be a representative from AARP addressing Social Security and Medicare issues, a presentation on the good and bad of the wine industry, followed by breakout committees and the all important Hospitality Reception.

Tuesday is the big money day with discussions on 1937 retirement act legal issues, Telecommunication scams, public pension perspectives, Sacramento legislative reports, a round table session, another hospitality reception, and the Conference Banquet featuring door prizes and entertainment. AMCRE--or at least I--have been very busy scurrying up donations for the door prizes and gift bags, several Mendocino county businesses have been very generous in helping us promote Mendocino county to the rest of the state.

The last day, Wednesday, is a CRCEA business meeting that lucky folks such as our CRCEA Representative Ned Walsh will be attending!

We hope to see you there!
Tom also asked me to post the conference materials here so any member may read about what the conference offers and, if so desired, reserve a place to attend.

CHANGE IN MCERA OFFICE HOURS

25 OCT 10: The Retirement Office will be closed from noon to 1:00 pm for lunch until further notice due to a staffing shortage since Sue has retired.

MCERA RESPONDS TO FARM BUREAU DIATRIBE

21 SEP 10: Those AMCRE members who read the Ukiah Daily Journal will likley have seen the Mendocino County Farm Bureau's Mike Anderson's recent (and oft repeated) diatribe alleging MCERA's and the County's mishandling of our retirement fund and the resulting unfunded liability. This follows on the heals of the Mendocino County Grand Jury's report that was similarly critical of the County and MCERA on this matter (see below).

Today, Jim Anderson sent me a copy of MCERA's response (in the appropriate form of another UDJ guest editorial) to the other Mr. Anderson. I thought I should mention it here, so AMCRE members can follow this story. Here is Jim's editorial posted on the MCERA website.

SUE THORNHILL IS ABOUT TO JOIN US!

15 SEP 10: (This announcement from MCERA)

Sue Thornhill is retiring after 28 years of Mendocino County Service. She has overseen the retirements of over 700 Mendocino County Employees and we now have the honor of processing her retirement. Please join us in celebrating this new chapter in Sue's life journey with a potluck get-together.
Date: October 10, 2010 Time: 2 to 5 p.m. Lion's Club Park 8920 East Road Redwood Valley Bring your own Beverage. Bottled water and tableware will be provided. What to Bring? Glad you asked! Follow the Chart below: First initial of Last Name: A - G = Salad H - O = Dessert P - Z = Main Dish

If the potluck doesn't work for you:

An open house to celebrate the career and retirement of Sue Thornhill will be held in the Retirement Conference room on September 20, 2010, from noon to 3:00 pm.
Or you can attend both!

MCERA RESPONDS TO GRAND JURY REPORT

21 JUL 10: As some AMCRE members will have learned, especially if you saw my previous post, below, of the Mendocino County Grand Jury's report that is very critical of the County and our Retirement Board for growth in unfunded liability.

Today, Jim Anderson sent me a copy of MCERA's response and asked me to post it on the AMCRE website. I regret that I have not had time to read it but did not want to delay posting it. Here, therefore and without further comment, is MCERA's response.

UNFUNDED LIABILITY -- OUR CHILDREN'S INHERITANCE (ANOTHER) UPDATE ON THE MENDOCINO COUNTY RETIREMENT SYSTEM

3 JUN 10: The ever helpful John Dickerson made sure that I received the Mendocino County Grand Jury's latest report (with the title listed above). The report slams the County and our Retirement Board for growth in unfunded liability and makes some really draconian recommendations for fixing the situation. You can (and should) read the GJ report here. The report focuses particularly on the burden our retiree health care benefits have added to the County's debt load and sharply questions the manner in which the benefits have been funded.

UDJ Make Public Records Request of MCERA

5 APR 10: I recieved an e-mail message from our retirement office today, sending a copy of a notice that will be posted to the MCERA website and will be included in a mailing to each retiree along with the cost of living notice that is sent out each year (yes, we got one this year). Jim Anderson thought it might be something that I should post here as well and I agree. "We are not sure exactly what the Ukiah Daily Journal will do with the names and annual benefit amounts of the retirees, but we did not want anyone to be caught by surprise in the event that they decide to publish the information."

"The names and salaries of active employees has also be requested and we have been notified that they will be released to the UDJ on April 12th."

NEWS OF HEALTH BENEFITS AND POTENTIAL CHANGES MOVED TO NEW PAGE

23 FEB 10: As it has become clear that so much is happening so quickly regarding our health care benefits, I have decided to move news items and meeting coverage on the topic to its own breaking news page. Other items of breaking news will remain here.

SCARE SUES SONOMA COUNTY

3 OCT 09: The posting date is the day I got a message informing me about this but the article in the Press Democrat was 22 September 2009. Sonoma County Association of Retired Employees (SCARE) tried without success for three years to negotiate its way out of the drastic increase in health care insurance premiums. Finally, it filed a law suit. Please read the PD article for more details.

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS SWING THE HAMMER--TWICE!

22 SEP 09: What ye olde Board of Supervisors purportedly giveth, a latter-day Board taketh away. In addition to raising premiums for our health care benefits--an additional $75 per month, for all retirees, added to a small (about $10) increase due to the rising cost of Medicare Part B--the current BOS rescinded Resolution 98-147 and replaced it with one "less ambiguous." Yes, the new resolution makes it very clear that the County WILL NOT be liable for 50% or any other part of the cost of our benefits. If we don't return to a state of "excess earnings" on the retirement fund, to pay for our health care benefits, any shortfall will unambiguously be OUR responsibility.

We were warned of the proposal to increase our premiums and given a chance to have a say about it. That opportunity appears to have helped to shape the change somewhat, from a proposal to raise the premium just $50 but drastically reduce our benefits, to one that hit us with a larger increase but left the plan design intact, for now. We were, however, NOT WARNED of the intention, which I believe was fermenting for quite some time, to rescind Resolution 98-147 at the same meeting!

You can read a lot more of my diatribe about these issues in the August-September 2009 issue of The Connection.

THE MEETING

27 AUG 09: Assistant CEO Allison Glassey introduced the meeting, gave background on events and circumstances leading up to the present, and introduced panel members who would be making presentations. Those consisted of Retirement Administrator Jim Anderson, Retirement Coordinator Sue Thornhill, consultant Borden Darm (forgive me if not spelled correctly), HR Benefits Manager Sue Goodrick, and two HR retiree health benefits specialists. Briefly:

Clearly, this proposal is just a band-aid to buy a little time, during which everyone hopes that the equity markets will continue to rebound and return our retirement system's investments to a state that once again yields excess earnings to fund our benefits. We have a long way to go as the retirement board's goal is a three year reserve for this trust fund.

Many retirees attended this meeting, asked many probing questions, and made some excellent points. Ms. Glassey made note of these and promised that Admin & c. will look into these matters and fully inform the Board of Supervisors for their decision making at the 22 September 2009 meeting.

This matter was originally planned for the BOS meeting of 8 September but was pushed out to the 22nd to allow more time for Admin, HR, the BOS members, the Retirement Board, and retirees to consider and study the matter. In that regard: Please plan to attend the AMCRE Board meeting, at 1:30 PM, Monday, 14 September 2009, at the Retirement Office Conference Room, 625-B Kings Court, Ukiah, to hear another presentation by HR on this matter. Then, plan to attend the all- important BOS meeting on 22 September. The time has not been set but we hope that it will be in the afternoon, at a time not likely to get shifted on us! Check the agenda on the BOS website--it should be posted by the preceding Thursday.

MEETING REGARDING RETIREE HEALTH CARE

21 AUG 09: Just in case you didn't receive a notice in the mail a week or so ago, I wanted to let you know about this important meeting:

The Human Resources Department, in conjunction with the County Executive Office and the Mendocino County Retirement Office, will be holding a Question and Answer session on a proposal to protect and preserve the retiree health plan.
27 August 2009 (Thursday), from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Board of Supervisors Chambers
501 Low Gap Road, Ukiah, California
All interested parties are welcome to attend.
In case you can't guess, this involves presenting alternate plans that either raise our premiums and/or lower our benefits. I had hoped to point you to a page on the MCERA website with a copy of the announcement and the accompanying comparison tables but at the time of this posting there is nothing there about it. I found that there's a page on the HR website for Retiree Health Benefits, there is no announcement there, either.

If you have not received a copy of the announcement in the mail, please contact the Human Resources Department at (707) 463-6553.

NOTICE!

21 AUG 09: I apologize for not providing more "Breaking News" lately but my computer was infected with malware/trojan/spyware. This allowed this website and my personal website to be hacked (apparently by Russians!) to use for spam, etc. and eventually ground my system to a halt. Pacific Internet, which graciously provides a home for this website, was on the ball and caught the nefarious activity and deleted the nasty stuff from this site and locked the spammers (and me) out. I waited until I could get my computer fixed before getting a new password to get back in and start the hacking all over again.

I got a local computer consultant (son of an old friend at MCIS) to fix my computer. He had to wipe the hard drive and reformat it, then rebuild it. After I got the machine back, I had to do considerable further rebuilding to get all my applications working again. I got a new password for this site and here I am again!

MCERA'S FIRST COMPREHENSIVE ANNUAL FINANCIAL REPORT

18 JUN 09: Retirement Administrator Jim Anderson asked that I share with AMCRE members the news that MCERA just posted to its website its first Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). The report actually came out in March of this year but is just now available on the website. Jim stated, "There's lots of information in the report (its not light reading), and we hope to condense it into a Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) during this next year." I'll post the link to that more readable version when I receive notification that it's available.

NEWS UPDATE FROM CRCEA

14 JUN 09: You may recall that Orange County's BOS had a change of heart, along with a change of board members, a while back, on the retroactive retiremenet benefits enhancement to public safety employees. Art Goulet (CRCEA Legislative Committee Chair) reports this update:

On May 22, the Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed the Orange County suit against the Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS), which sought to prevent OCERS from retroactively applying enhanced retirement benefits to members of the Deputy Sheriffs' Association, as was approved in a contract entered into by a previous Board of Supervisors. As you may recall, the Judge had previously granted a summary judgment against the County, with leave to amend. The County submitted an amended complaint (although there was some argument as to whether it was really an amended complaint, or just a restatement of the original). However the "amendment" did not persuade the Judge. There is no word yet on whether Orange County will appeal the dismissal.
Remember my telling you about the McCauley Initiative (to allow government agencies in California to have an avenue to renig on their contractual retirement benefit obligations)? Art Goulet reports that McCauley is at it again:
Paul McCauley, a CPA from Santa Monica, has filed yet another initiative aimed primarily at public pensions. This one is worse than the last. It establishes a confiscatory tax on pensions and related distributions, called a surcharge. As best I can determine, it would apply not only to pensions received under a defined benefit plan, but would also apply to distributions from defined contribution plans, social security payments, and the fair market value of a health plan provided to any person. To see the full text of the initiative, the link is here and to see the Legislative Analyst's (LAO's) analysis of the initiative, the link is here.

The tax rates in the initiative are in addition to the state's ordinary income taxes. This basically means that, at the higher pension levels, the combination of federal and state income taxes, and the surcharge included in the initiative, would cause the marginal benefit to the recipient to be close to nothing. Additionally, the initiative attempts to tax pensions and distributions to non-residents. To avoid a federal prohibition on assessing an income tax on a resident of another state, the initiative calls it an excise tax. The LAO's analysis suggests that whatever it's called, it's probably illegal. I was disappointed that the analysis didn't suggest that the surcharge might violate the equal protection and due process provisions of the U.S. Constitution. It's obviously discriminatory to retirees.

Art urges us: "We must keep this off the ballot! I think it is discriminatory since it targets older people, but who knows what a court would rule if it made the ballot and passed." Don't sign a petition to help this measure get on the ballot!

That's not quite all that Art had to report. He also told us:

In my last report, I mentioned that the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility (CFFR) had created a website on which they have posted the names, pension amount, and former agency of all retirees receiving a pension of more than $100,000 annually from PERS. They have now done the same for the City of Los Angeles, and for CalSTRS, although the latter is not searchable. I also mentioned that CFFR had submitted requests to all of the 1937 Act systems for the same information, and that there were a variety of responses to the request. CCCERA agreed to provide the information requested, but first gave notice to its retirees of their intention. A suit has been filed in Contra Costa Superior Court by a retired Sheriff's officer to prevent the disclosure. A temporary restraining order has been issued, and the trial is scheduled for July 2.
Newspapers have now joined this fight (see article in the Contra Costa Times). Do you suppose that there are actually any Mendocino County retirees with annual pensions over $100,000?

UKIAH SENIOR CENTER

13 APR 09: AMCRE Vice President Lynne Johnson has been finding some very interesting speakers for our general meetings lately. April's presentation was by Lavonna Silveria, Executive Director and Marilyn DeFrange, General Operations & Transportation Manager of the Ukiah Senior Center. I was amazed to hear all that the Center offers, including the rare service of an Adult Day Health Care Program, as well as meals, transporation, social events, other active adult activities, and a thrift store. The Center's newsletter is called The Scoop and is also on-line. Check it out!

NEITHER BEST NOR WORST: JIM ANDERSON ANSWERS JOHN DICKERSON

10 APR 09: Some AMCRE members who live near Ukiah probably saw, several times in the recent past, John Dickerson's pot shots at Mendocino County and its debt issues (guest editorials in the Ukiah Daily Journal). Among his claims is that the unfunded liability for our pension fund is a crushing burden, that the County made a poor choice in issuing a pension obligation bond, and that our retirement fund has been poorly managed. Indeed, he claimed that MCERA is the worst performing of all '37 Act counties. Damning accusations indeed. You can read a host of diatribes on Dickerson's website "Your Public Money."

MCERA's response from Jim Anderson was also featured as a guest editorial in The Journal but in somewhat abbreviated form. The full report is posted on MCERA's website HERE. According to Jim, MCERA's performance was consistently in the top five '37 Act county pension funds and performed better than PERS in each of the years compared. However, Dickerson still claims that his accusations have not been answered. You can read about this for yourselves and perhaps some of you will understand it better than I do! I'm sure that we'll be hearing more about this in the coming months. I know that the Board of Supervisors is trying hard to make sense of this issue.

HEATH SCREENING EVALUATIONS AVAILABLE FOR RETIREES IN 2009

23 MAR 09: We had not heard from MCWOW (Mendocino County Working on Wellness Program) lately and--with the latest budget cuts--feared that the program would have been eliminated. Just as I was about to go to press on the March-April issue of The Connection, however, I received an e-mail message from Jean Maier, the wellness nurse at MCWOW. She informed me that Heath Screening appointments for Retirees will be available for 2009, beginning in May. Contact the MCWOW office at (707) 463-4040 to schedule an appointment. Don't delay as Jean said that appointments can be scheduled up to six (6) weeks in advance.

I've also added a MCWOW website link to the AMCRE website (see button on the row above) so you can go there from here!

Note that, while MCWOW was formerly part of Public Health and located near that department, it's now part of Human Resources and has a new location in the trailer that was formerly the location of the Retirement Office, at 559 Low Gap Road, Ukiah, California. The telephone number is (707) 463-4040.

MCERA (RETIREMENT BOARD) WEBSITE NOW ON-LINE!

20 MAR 09: MCERA (Mendocino County Employees Retirement Association, our Retirement Board) now has a website on-line, linked as an affiliated agency on the Mendocino County website. I've added an MCERA website link to the AMCRE website (see button on the row above) so you can go there from here!

There, you will find a lot of useful information, which will increase as time goes on. Agendas and Minutes of retirement board meetings will be posted there, as well as some other reports and the Membership Handbook. You will also be able to download various forms. Check the new website often, as new stuff keeps getting added all the time. I just checked and found that it even has a link to this AMCRE site--how cool is that?

U.S. TO TAX HEALTH CARE BENEFITS?

16 MAR 09: AMCRE member (and former AMCRE President) Pat Vetzmadian called me this morning to express her concern that the Obama administration may now favor taxing our health care benefits.

I did a little research on the issue of proposals to tax health care benefits and found that the power behind the proposal seems to be Senator Max Baucus (Democrat, Montana), chairman of the Finance Committee. One article I found said that Baucus wants to "examine" taxing as people's income some health insurance benefits provided by employers. Apparently, President Obama is being careful not to openly oppose this (especially after slamming McCane's similar proposal during the presidential campaign) but neither does he appear to openly support it. I found the following additional articles that seemed pretty even-handed: HERE, HERE, and HERE. I'd like to have a better idea of what's meant by taxing "some" of the benefits. I also wonder if the term "employer" includes retirement systems. I certainly think this is an issue worth watching.

CALL TO BATTLE!

UPDATE--25 JAN 09: The following was written by a retired attorney from Contra Costa County. It was forwarded to CRCEA reps by Art Goulet on 25 January 2009:

I caution you to not lose any sleep over this proposed initiative. Even if this initiative were to qualify for the ballot, it would, in my opinion, be declared unconstitutional if there was any effort to apply its provisions to existing retirees. The Contracts Clause of the California Constitution would be meaningless if this amendment were deemed to apply to existing retirees.

And even if this initiative managed to pass constitutional scrutiny under the California Constitution, there is a contracts clause in the United States Constitution which would not be amended by this initiative. This initiative would certainly be declared unconstitutional under the federal contracts clause, which applies to all levels of government. And remember that our lawsuit will be filed in federal district court, whose judges apply the United States Constitution, not the California Constitution.

I encourage you to save your worries and energies for things that really matter to us such as our impending fight with the County over our vested health insurance rights.

I must say that I had serious doubts that such an attempt could pass court muster. Nevertheless, we must be mindful that this is not the first attempt at compromising the promised made to us and likely won't be the last. I hope and believe that the attorney is right but still think we must pay attention to this (along with everything else).

STAY ALERT!

23 JAN 09: I received an e-mail message Thursday 22nd January 2009 from Art Goulet, legislative chair for CRCEA. His message, entitled, "Initiative," stated, "Get ready to fight! Also, better mobilize your folks so they know not to sign." Not sign what, you may ask? "The McCauley Public Pension Reform Act," that's what. What is that? Read it for yourself here. Paul McCauley, who authored this initiative, was inteviewed by the Sacramento Bee's "The State Worker" about this measure here. There's also a news release about this initiative from the Secretary of State.

I strongly urge everyone in AMCRE to read these items and get ready for a fight. The initiative must qualify for the State ballot by collecting almost 700,000 voter signatures by 22 June 2009 so don't sign the petition! The initiative calls for a change in the State Constitution to allow "...that public-employee pension contracts may be renegotiated, including reducing vested benefits for existing and prospective retirees..."

Renegotiate the vested benefits of already retired public employees! Renegotiate with whom? Negotiation implies that we'd be offered something to replace our retirement benefits and I can't think what that would be, unless it's welfare! Negotiation also implies that there's some bargaining unit for existing retirees. I'm not aware of such an organization (it's not SEIU). I think this must mean "go to court to get existing retirees benefits lowered" and involves no "negotiation" whatsoever.

This should, I feel, be a topic of discussion at the upcoming MCERA Board meeting (28th January 2009), next week but it's not specifically listed on the agenda. I hope to be there and bring it up during public expression.

STAY TUNED!


CIVILITY AND A MODICUM OF REASON PREVAIL AT THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MEETING

16 SEP 08: Allison Glassey made her report (the one linked below) and had quite a lot more to say as well. While she did make the expected recommendation (to charge all retirees $85 per month and the pre-Medicare retirees an additional $53 in 2009 and another $53 in 2010), in the end, she acknowledged that there were other worthy opinions and that the Board might chose another scheme. Indeed, the Board supported the Retirement Board's (MCERA's) recommendation that Medicare-eligible retirees will not be charged anything for the insurance, while the pre-Medicare folks will have to pay a premium equal to that of Part B of Medicare, putting everyone on some sense of equity, or so they say. This will be reviewed at least annually, probably more often, so keep paying attention! I'll tell much more ind the upcoming issue of The Connection.

TOM MITCHELL'S PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE

UPDATE--15 SEP 08: When we read, "Discussion and Possible Action Regarding Premium Levels and Funding Sources for Retiree Health Plan" as the entry in the BOS agenda for tomorrow (16 SEP 08), under the CEO time slot, I think most AMCRE Board members read that as the time that the Board of Supervisors would consider the Retirement Board's recommendation for changes in the retiree health care benefits plan.

WE WERE WRONG! The CEO has quite a different aganda, folks! You can read the CEO's staff report for yourself and see what the various committees recommended. To put a little lipstick on the pig, CEO staff enumerated some uglier scenarios first, then came in with a graciously understated description of a plan that will hit our pocketbooks a lot harder than would the Retirement Board's (MCERA's) recommendation. The MCERA plan would have those of us who are still pre-Medicare pay an amount equal to the cost of Part B of Medicare (apparently projected to be $106 in 2009). The CEO's recommendation has all retirees, including those on Medicare, paying $85 per month in premium (to offset the projected increase in the 2009 cost of the program). In addition, pre-Medicare retirees would start paying $53 for 2009 and an additional $53 in 2010, to phase in putting us on equity with those on Medicare.

Call everyone you know who can attend the BOS meeting (9:15 AM, 16 September 2008) and be there with bells on!

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MEETING 16 SEPTEMBER 2008

The Board of Supervisors meeting to consider our retiree health benefits is BACK ON the agenda for the 16th of September 2008. It doesn't show on the agenda (as of the time I write this, 3:45 PM on Friday, 12 September) but is supposed to get put in an adendum that will be posted later. I can't wait until then to post this so am relying on the word of others. Linda said she was told that it would be right after the Consent Calendar so probably around 9:15 AM or so.

We do expect the Board to consider starting to charge us for our health insurance, based upon the Retirement Board's recommendation. Please try to be there!

UPDATE: The Clerk of the Board's office has posted an addendum to the agenda for the 16th. The entry for the item affecting our health insurance is listed:

ITEM NO. 6 - CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER - CONTINUED

(c) Timed Item - 9:15 a.m.: Discussion and Possible Action Regarding Premium Levels and Funding Sources for Retiree Health Plan

and includes an agenda summary posted here (third agenda summary down the page) that still doesn't tell what's proposed. It mentions an attached report that is not posted on the BOS website, as far as I can tell.

TIM KNUDSEN EXPLAINS

At the time normally set for the bi-monthly AMCRE Board of Directors' meeting, 8 September 2008, members were invited to attend a special talk by Tim Knudsen, our (MCERA's) interim retirement administrator. We met in the Board of Supervisors' chambers and nearly filled up all the seats! I'm glad I attended, not only for the excellent talk but to see some folks I hadn't seen in years. Clearly, health care is a hot-button topic for all of us. Tim gave history of our retiree health care benefits program, how a crisis was averted in the past (by means no longer available to us), why another one is looming, and why he feels strongly that it's necessary for retirees to step up to the plate to help fund it. He fears that if we fail to do so, we may jeopardize its future. He urged us to understand how catastrophic it would be if our plan were to go away and how we can't count on the Board of Supervisors to prop it up, no matter what promises may have been made or will be made. I'll tell more about this talk in the upcoming issue of The Connection.

Dennis Huey, our retiree representative on MCERA's board, made a few comments, too. Among them was to tell us about an article in the most recent (Summer 2008) issue of the SACRS magazine. The article (beginning on Page 8) compares the retiree health care benefits funding for the 20 counties in the '37 Act system. The article has a chart that lists whether or not any financial support is given for retiree health benefits, who pays for it (county or retirement fund), source of the funds, and percent funded. Somehow, Mendocino County didn't get a chance to participate in the survey so is erroneously listed as giving no financial support to a health care program. Dennis said he believed that the data in the article otherwise looked accurate and that he thought we'd find it interesting to compare our situation with that of the other counties.

By the way: Below, I mentioned that we expect the Board of Supervisors to hear MCERA's recommendation at its 16 September 2008 meeting but Tim said that he's not sure it will happen that soon. He said that he'll try to get it on the agenda as soon as possible so keep an eye on the Supes' agendas for upcoming meetings and plan to attend. You don't have to speak. Retired supervisor Marilyn Butcher attended and participated in the AMCRE Board meeting. She urged us to be present but cautioned us to not waste the Supes' time and antagonize them by repeating the same stuff many times. Just being a presence at the meeting has a considerable effect.

MCERA RECOMMENDATION FOR CHANGES TO THE RETIREE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM -- 20 AUGUST 2008

At its 20 August 2008 meeting, the Mendocino County Retired Employees Association Board of Directors (i.e. our retirement board) reviewed the health benefits sub-committee's five options for changes to our health benefits plan (see below) and voted to recommend Option 3 to the Board of Supervisors. Option 3 would begin (in January 2009) to charge pre-Medicare retirees $100 per month for health care benefits. We expect the BOS to consider this recommendation at its regular meeting of 16 September 2008 so watch the Board's Agenda for exact date and time. We hope you will be there to put a face to the impact of whatever the board members decide to inflict upon us.

AMCRE's Directors realize that Health Care costs are out of control. We are concerned that placing the burden on the Retirees will not resolve the crisis. The County Board of Supervisors through resolution 98-147 set criteria regarding the Retirees Health Care Plan which are not being addressed in the actuarial study or the proposed Options. We also support the premise that you do not resolve the issue without first controlling the expenditures.

We have a major concern that the timing of this process does not leave time for the retirees to work collaboratively on a solution and that, until our Representatives attended these meetings, the Retirees were not informed that the Plan was in a crisis situation (if it is). We hope that the Retirement Board will give us-the Retirees-time to carefully look at our plan and collectively work on a plan that will keep Mendocino County Retirees Health Benefits strong and viable for the next 20 to 40 years. With the passage of the Resolution 98-147, Mendocino Retirement System should only need to provide Health Benefits to Retirees for a maximum of 40 more years. As our population ages, more MediCare reimbursements will decrease the net system expenditure.

There are too many unknowns, facts, and information that need to be gathered and reviewed before this goes to the Board of Supervisors. What recourse do the retirees have if it is railroaded through? As it appears now, none; we are looking into that question.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Get involved. Go to the Retirement Board Meetings on the third Wednesday of the month, 8:30 AM at the Retirement Office. Learn more about how the system works. Make your voice heard. Be prepared to attend the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, September 16th, which will be open for public comment. Let the decisions makers see the faces of those who will bear this burden.

Please get involved and stay connected. The AMCRE Board of Directors meets 6 times a year and is open to all AMCRE members and their families. Currently there are seats available on the Board. AMCRE started watching this issue because it is a serious issue that threatens the health and well being of our members. Check the "Breaking News" link on the AMCRE website at http://www.amcre.org for updates between issues of "The Connection."

HEALTH BENEFITS AT RISK?

Whether or not and how much to charge pre-Medicare retirees covered by the retiree health benefits is once again a hot topic at MCERA (our retirement board). The notion of charging perhaps $100 per month, to approximate what the Medicare-eligible retirees have to pay for Medicare Part B, is again one option being considered. Another is to charge us the same as the active employees are paying and give us the same benefits, deductible, etc., but still with no dental or vision coverage. There's more about this issue in the July-August issue of The Connection. If I hear anything more on this subject that I consider worth reporting, prior to putting together the next issue, I'll try to post it here.

HEALTH SCREENINGS FINALLY AVAILABLE FOR RETIREES IN UKIAH FOR 2008

MCWOW finally hired a new public health nurse for the wellness program in Ukiah and can now again offer wellness screenings for retiress, beginning 1 June 2008. For shcdule and information on signing up, click here to see the Health Screening Assessments page of the Mendocino County Working on Wellness (MCWOW) program.

MCERA INDEPENDENCE AND NEW FACILITIES!

As most of you will know, MCERA (Mendocino County Employees Retirement Association, better known as our retirement board) went independent (for administration) from the County. As you may not know, a good little chunk of MCERA's (i.e. our) investment portfolio is in real estate, mainly REITs (real estate investment trusts). As part of this portfolio, MCERA recently purchased its very own building, using a portion of it for its own offices and renting the larger portion to a pre-existing tenant (a State of California department). This gives good income to help pay for this investment, as well as to give room for future expansion (now over 900 retirees and rapidly growing). MCERA has graciously extended the use of its very nice conference room for our meetings and other functions (such as assembly of The Connection). We just had our first meeting there and it was great! Not only did we enjoy a nice space, but Sue and her staff really jumped through hoops to make us welcome, setting up the room and even making the coffee! We are SO lucky!

WELLNESS EVALUATIONS FOR RETIREES

Click here to see the Health Screening Assessments page of the Mendocino County Working on Wellness (MCWOW) program. Currently available are evaluations for those employees and retirees on the coast and in the Willits area, on a somewhat limited basis. See the MCWOW announcement about this on the page linked above. Evaluations for the Ukiah area have been delayed until a date uncertain because the wellness nurse took another position in Public Health. MCWOW (which is now a division of the Health and Human Services Agency, separate from Public Health) is currently recruiting for this part-time position. This might take a while, considering what the County pays nurses. MCWOW's main web page is here. Please visit MCWOW's page for a lot of worthwhile information. While, currently, the library is not available for retirees, this could change if we hear of sufficient interest from AMCRE members. It's a valuable resource. However, there is still much on the website worth your perusal. While it's not quite as extensive as the wellness resources of Los Angeles County, it still offers plenty of useful informarion.

Have a look! For example, read the latest issue of MCWOW's informative and helpful Wellness Times.

HEALTH BENEFITS COMMITTEE NEWS

Click here to view meeting notes from the August 2007 Retiree Health Benefits Committee Meeting as a pdf file. I believe this ad hoc committee has not convened since the August meeting but will likely meet soon, to discuss the future of our retiree health benefits. Dennis Huey, our retiree rep to MCERA (our retirement board)-- as well as chair of said committee--recently expressed a hopeful outlook for possible improvement and/or cost reduction in our future. Watch this space!


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