Reversing a decision it made two weeks ago, the La Habra City Council on Monday approved a new agreement with the La Habra Police Association that will allow current Police Department employees to take furloughs instead of being forced to pay into their own retirement accounts.
The agreement covers both sworn and non-sworn Police Department employees. Those hired before July 1 of this year will be required to take 125 furlough hours, amounting to a 6 percent pay cut, for 2010-11. The pension payment plan would have cost current employees 7 percent of their pay.
Department employees hired after July 1 will have to pay into their pension accounts and won’t take furloughs. Officers will pay 9 percent of their paychecks into their retirement accounts, and civilian employees 7 percent.
According to a report by Jennifer Cervantez, assistant to the city manager, the new agreement will cost approximately $150,000 more than the plan imposed June 21, but the city’s general fund contains enough of a surplus to cover the increase.
Before the reversal, La Habra had put itself at the forefront countywide when it comes to targeting police benefits to balance budgets. Historically, police have paid less than other public employees for their benefits, and elected officials have feared the political reprisals of making them pay more.
Mayor G. Steve Simonian and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gomez are up for reelection this November.
At the June 21 meeting, a majority of councilmembers said they were against the furlough plan because it took officers off the streets. Jim Tigner, president of the police union, would not speculate on why the council reversed itself but said officers have been clear in showing that they can make furloughs work.
“I was very pleased with the direction given by the council to staff,” Tigner said. “It was a very good step for relations.”
Tigner added that he hoped officers would be required to take only 105 furlough hours this year — the same number as last year.
A freeze on salary increases will continue under the new plan. The vacation buyback program, which had been suspended under the old plan, will now allow employees to cash out up to 40 hours of vacation time for the year.
— JUSTIN VELASCO
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