SMART may only have 17 employees for now, but they expect to grow to more than 100 when the system begins operating trains for the district. When that happens, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district could have been on the hook for millions of dollars worth of pension contributions. Because of the way pay was structured, until a vote changed it on Wednesday, SMART paid not only its 13% contribution to CalPERS, but also the employee contribution of 7%.

The new rule, which applies only to workers hired after September 1, 2011, requires that employees pay their 7% contribution.

Of the $2.8 million salary allocation for this fiscal year, more than $935,000 was ear marked for pension and healthcare benefits.

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit directors on Wednesday lowered the amount that the agency contributes to the pension plan of new employees.

The transit agency currently contributes the employees’ share, 7 percent of their salary, on top of SMART’s contribution, 13 percent, to the California State Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS.

Under the change, workers hired since Sept. 1 will pay the 7 percent, which would be eligible for a tax-deferral.

Read the full article here.