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Sonoma County's pension gap grows $50 million

For the second time in two years, officials overseeing the pension system for Sonoma County government have lowered the fund's projected rate of return on investments, a move that will increase taxpayer costs in the short term but is intended to reduce long-term market-driven shortfalls.

The quarter-percent change, to a new rate of 7.5 percent, will trigger a roughly $50 million spike in the county's pension underfunding, now set at $353 million.

It also will trigger a $4.6 million increase in annual contributions by taxpayers to the system. That represents a 4.9 percent increase on the county's current annual pension costs of $94 million, including payments on pension bond debt. The increase will be phased in over three years beginning in mid-2014.

The shift comes at a time of increasing focus on the rising cost of public pensions, which critics say sucks money from county services.

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