A Los Angeles Times study looked at something called pension spiking, county employees use a variety of loopholes to boost their final year's salary, which is often used to calculate their pension, it's not allowed in many counties, but it is in Kern.
"The overall expenses for our pension system is a big problem for Kern County," says supervisor Zack Scrivner.
Board Chairman Zack Scrivner admits pension costs are high in Kern County. One of the reasons? Pension spiking. Here's an example of spiking as noted in a recent Los Angeles Times study.
One Kern County sheriff's employee, made about $70,000 a year in base pay. But in his final year he took almost $4,000 in overtime and almost $5,500 more when he cashed in on accumulated vacation and holiday pay. The result? His pension, based on his final year's pay is 122% of his base pay.
He retired at 53 after 28 years on the job and instead of getting 70k, he gets $86,000 a year for life.
And there are hundreds more including one person making 165% of his base pay in retirement.
And, there are even more ways to increase a pension besides cashing in on vacation and overtime pay. "You can add in those special pays such as uniform allowance, vehicle allowance, etc. and those also get calculated in," adds Scrivner.
"Some employees such as elected officials don't get OT or vacation pay, but many of them also have pensions worth more than their base pay."
For instance, the LA Times reported former District Attorney Ed Jagels gets 106% of his base pay. That's because he got more than $7,000 annually in a vehicle allowance - money for using your own car in county business - that counted as income. The county continues to pay those thousands every year even though Jagels no longer uses his own vehicle to run errands on behalf of the county.
Jagels would not go on camera. Additionally, many retired deputies still get hundreds of dollars in uniform allowances a year, just as they did when working.
It's perfectly legal, but Scrivner says it's still wrong, and the county is working to fight rising pensions. "I think the most important thing to focus on is to try to address our pension costs and we're doing just that by trying to get our unions to agree to a lower pension benefit for newly-hired employees.
We contacted the sheriff's union and a spokesperson told us this was the first he'd heard of pensions worth more than 100% of someone's salary. We also contacted Kern County firefighters, but didn't hear back. We also reached out to some of the people taking in the highest pensions, none would go on camera.