Police to Get Raises to Offset Higher Pension Payments

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City councils in Garden Grove and Orange on Tuesday night will be granting raises to local police just as officials seek concessions for increased contributions toward public safety pensions, which are among the most expensive in local government.

In Garden Grove, council members are set to give police officers a 3-percent pay raise to cover their increased pension payments under a new contract.

That raise would be coupled with an additional 4-percent raise and an increased sick leave payout rate.  Altogether it will apparently cost taxpayers an extra $1.1 million per year, based on a series of calculations in city documents.

But the city staff report doesn’t give a total figure, which frustrates Garden Grove activist Josh McIntosh.

“What is the actual cost to the residents? At a time that the city is incurring lawsuits that we’re paying in the millions, is it really time to give the officers a raise?” he said. McIntosh was referring to a $1.3-million settlement for the family of Andy Tran, who died after officers shot him with a stun gun when he wouldn’t remove his hands from above his head to be handcuffed.

“I think our officers do a pretty good job. I feel safe in my community, but at this time it’s just costs that we can’t afford,” added McIntosh.

Mayor Bruce Broadwater declined to comment, and the rest of the council and City Manager Matthew Fertal didn’t return messages.

Jeff Hutchins, president of the Garden Grove Police Association, also didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Garden Grove has projected a $5.9-million budget deficit this fiscal year, which it expects to make up through selling property and drawing from reserves and other special funds. The city depleted its $3-million contingency fund in previous years to balance the budget.

McIntosh said that he’s been trying to clarify the proposal’s cost but that city officials have simply forwarded him to answering machines.

“It’s frustrating,” he said.

A new state law, the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act or PEPRA, allows cities to require that police and firefighters pay 12 percent of their salary toward pensions starting in 2018.

In Garden Grove’s case, the city has negotiated to have police officers increase their contributions from 9 percent to the full 12 percent it could impose under PEPRA.

Yet on the same day officers would start paying the full rate — June 30, 2015 — the city is set to boost their salaries by 3 percent, essentially having taxpayers bear that cost.

On top of that 3-percent increase, council members are set to approve another 4-percent salary raise for police officers phased over the next two years. Officers would also be able to cash in unused sick pay at higher rates.

A Pay Raise for Police in Orange

A salary boost could also be in store for police officers in Orange, with a 3-percent increase up for a vote Tuesday by council members.

Besides that raise, the deal in Orange allows officers to convert a fourth of their unused vacation time into cash each year. Starting next July they could cash in up to a third of their unused vacation time each year.

That deal is expected to save taxpayers about $330,000 this fiscal year but cost an extra $530,000 annually beginning next fiscal year.

City Manager John Sibley said it’s not related to increased pension contributions by officers.

“All of our employees right now — fire, police, our managers, our executives — everybody’s paying their full share of retirement,” said Sibley.

In the past, the city had paid the entire employee contribution for police officers, which now stands at 9 percent of salary, he added.

“As hard as it is to take that money away and to start doing it, I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Sibley.

Police and firefighter costs often constitute the bulk of a city’s budget.

In Garden Grove’s case, the police and fire departments account for 66 percent, about two-thirds, of its general fund spending, as of last fiscal year’s budget.

In Orange, public safety accounted for 68 percent of general fund spending as of last year.

Under PEPRA, cities are permitted to require that existing police and firefighters pay up to 12 percent of salary toward pensions and nonsafety employees pay up to 8 percent starting in 2018.

Among other changes, the law also requires that new nonsafety employees come in at a 2.5 percent at 67 benefit formula, with new safety employees earning a maximum of 2.7 percent at 57.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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