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Daily Pilot

Curry: City, employees near agreement on pension reforms

Newport mayor gives state of the city address in Corona del Mar.

By Jill Cowan

7:47 PM PST, January 15, 2013

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Speaking to the Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce Tuesday afternoon, Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry announced a proposed pact that would increase some city employees' pension contributions.

"I want to thank our employees who've been real partners with us," Curry said during his State of the City address at the chamber's annual Mayor's Lunch at Five Crowns.

The pension deal, which is expected to go before the City Council for approval next week, would increase "miscellaneous" employees' contributions to 46% of their total pension cost, City Manager Dave Kiff said later.

Fewer than 300 non-public-safety employees would be affected, and the increases would be phased in incrementally over three years.

That translates to employees paying about 1.45% more of their total pay toward retirement each year, he said.

Right now, those same employees contribute a little more than 30%, Kiff said.

In 2007, Curry said in his speech, employees contributed "zero."

So while other California cities battle it out with employees over underfunded pension liabilities, Curry praised Newport Beach employees for the "real sacrifice" and "collaborative effort" the deal required.

Kiff concurred.

"They're contributing more for a pension that's very valuable to them," he said. "It's remarkable that the council got that concession."

The almost 50% contribution is high, compared with other cities, Kiff said, but Newport is likely just "earlier in the negotiations curve."

"What will be interesting to see is in three years, will everybody have moved toward that?" he said. "The council has said they really want us to focus on this right away. In order to survive the pension problems, most cities have to go in the same direction."

At the lunch, Curry lauded the city's overall fiscal health — the product, he said, of careful management through the recession.

"Our city is financially strong," he said, citing a 10%, or 84-position, reduction in city staff since 2008 and the more than $100 million Newport has in reserves.

He commended the efforts of his predecessors on projects wrapped up in 2012, such as the new Civic Center near Newport Center, the entirety of which will open to the public in early May.

Last year's contentious harbor-fee increases, Curry said, were necessary to help fund about $29 million in infrastructure improvements the city hopes will take place in the next five years.

The plan, he said, aims to make the harbor "safer, easier to navigate and a better amenity."

Curry also outlined tasks for the new year, including taking a closer look at possibly outsourcing the city's trash collection services, creating a bike-safety master plan and moving forward on the redevelopment of the old City Hall site on Newport Boulevard.

In a brief question-and-answer session after the speech, audience members asked about the status of beach fire rings and the Banning Ranch development, two issues that have stirred intense debate in recent years.

The city's plan to remove the fire rings, he said, is awaiting action by the Coastal Commission, as is Banning Ranch.

Above all, Curry urged residents in 2013 to get involved in the community — whether through volunteerism or contributing to local foundations — to make Newport better for future generations.

"We have a job to do," he said. "So let's get at it."

jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan