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fire and other city departments; and raised taxes and fees.

They say the only way they'll be able to slow the trend is by persuading unions to reduce their perks. But even then, the savings won't come for years because the deals would only affect new hires.

Terry Brennand, a pension specialist who represents 2,600 workers throughout the county in the Service Employees International Union, argues that cities should have stored away money for benefits in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when they were flush.

Workers who aren't in public safety typically can retire at 55, or sometimes 60, with pensions equal to 2.5 or 2.7 percent of their annual salaries, multiplied by the number of years worked.

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Figures provided by nine of the largest cities in the county Belmont, Burlingame, Daly City, Foster City, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Mateo and South San Francisco show they spent a total of $92 million on their current and former employees' retirement, health care and other benefits in the fiscal year that ended in June.

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Now most cities in San Mateo County allow their police officers and firefighters to retire at 50, or occasionally at 55, with a pension equal to 3 percent of their salary multiplied by their number of years worked. So employees who make a $100,000 salary can add $3,000 to their pension every year, up to $90,000.

The benefit costs mostly consist of retirement funds and health care for current and former employees, but also include dental and vision coverage, life insurance and workers' compensation insurance.

"This holiday wasn't going to last forever markets go up and down," Brennand said. "You don't take the money you're saving and turn it into new programs. You know that this is retirement money."The largest increases in benefit costs can be found in Menlo Park and Redwood City, which saw their benefits spending more than quadruple. The smallest increases were in San Bruno, Foster City and the county government, whose benefits all jumped about 2 times over the decade.

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The problem hasn't just plagued cities. The county government, which is bigger than all the cities combined, has seen its cost of employee benefits jump by more than 150 percent since 2001, from $87 million to $221 million. The county provides health, social and other services for the entire region.

The cities began the decade on a "pension holiday," meaning they contributed virtually nothing to their workers' retirement plans. But that changed after the dot com bubble burst. CalPERS, which provides retirement benefits for public workers in California, had been paying employee pensions with its stock market gains and reserves but now suddenly needed cities to resume their contributions.

Then the state gave out so called "Cadillac" pension deals to its prison guards and Highway Patrol officers, allowing them to retire at age 50 and earn up to 90 percent of their salaries. Cities around California quickly followed suit to compete, and in other cases new state laws that allowed arbitrators to settle union disputes forced cities into the deals.

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Interviews with city executives, finance directors and union leaders explain how spending on pensions and health care which make up about three fourths of all benefit costs grew so quickly.

City employee benefits triple in San Mateo County cities

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Meanwhile, city officials say health care premiums have increased about 10 percent each year over the past decade. Officials say there is little they could do short of offering cheaper health plans or seeking greater employee contributions, which unions have been reluctant to accept to combat those costs.

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The remaining cities Belmont, Burlingame, Daly City, San Mateo and South San Francisco saw their benefit costs soar between 172 and 216 percent to around triple their former value. Officials Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Review

in San Carlos, which has experienced crippling budget problems due in part to benefit costs, said they could not provide the data. Most cities say their benefit costs will rise steadily this year, by a few hundred thousand dollars, and continue to do so for at least a few more years.

In 2010, the cities spent $345 million on everything other than benefits, up from $289 million in 2001. That's an increase of 20 percent during a span in which inflation was close to 25 percent. A typical city spends about three fifths of its budget on employee salaries, one fifth on worker benefits and one fifth on everything else.

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How problem started

But employees, many of whom say they take government jobs because the benefits are often better than those of private sector positions that offer the opportunity for higher salaries, won't give up their perks without a fight.

Data collected by the Times over the past three months shows for the first time Omega Seamaster Professional Replica how the cost of employee benefits has skyrocketed from city to city in San Mateo County.

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Cities across San Mateo County now spend three times as much on employee benefits as they did a decade ago, a taxpayer burden that has led to shuttered programs, reduced services and higher taxes, according to data obtained by the San Mateo County Times.

the benefits we are providing our employees," said Burlingame City Manager Jim Nantell, whose city shut down a fire station recently in part to combat the rising cost of benefits.

"We cannot continue to afford Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Lume

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Much of the blame falls on factors outside the cities' control, such as steady increases in retirement and health care premiums that have hampered governments around the state. To keep up, city officials say they have slashed or shut down programs; shrunk police, Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch On Wrist

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