The Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District is Another Canary in the Pension Coal Mine

Twenty-four years ago, several fire districts in the Central Valley joined together to create the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District. Today, the District — which serves parts of East Modesto, Riverbank, Waterford, and previously Oakdale — is on the brink of insolvency as a result of swelling pension liabilities, CalMatters’ Dan Walters reports.

In 2015-2016, SCFPD was hit with a $330,858 charge from the California Public Employees Retirement System. Its “unfunded actuarial liability” (UAL) grew further, increasing to $397,981 in 2016-2017 and $517,834 in 2017-18. The District was forced to set aside a whopping $842,404 for UAL in its budget for 2019-2020. That figure will soon hit $1 million.

Because of its deficits, the City of Oakdale recently cut its contract with the District. That resulted in further losses, necessitating a station closure and service cuts. Now some residents are nervous that SCFPD’s troubles could put them at greater risk in a fire.

It is yet another example of what can happen when ever increasing retirement costs choke out government services.

“Throughout California, local officials have complained loudly about the ever-rising CalPERS assessments, saying they’ll have no choice but to cut services unless local voters are willing to raise taxes,” writes Walters.

“CalPERS officials, on the other hand, contend that they also have no choice because their investments haven’t fully recovered from the last recession and they must improve their balance sheet to cope with the next downturn.

Meanwhile, CalPERS investment returns continue to fall below expectations, thus widening the gap between its assets and what it needs to cover pension promises.

In rural Stanislaus County, where wildfire is always a threat, it means having fewer fire trucks and fewer firefighters to respond when it hits.”


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