Laguna Beach’s police officers and non-sworn personnel will receive raises of 6 and 5 percent respectively under the terms of a three-year contract. Even so, the pay hikes won’t offset the jump in retirement contributions now borne by employees, said City Manager John Pietig.
While the 65-member employee group agreed to the terms of the pact, last week Detective Larry Bammer, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employees Association, also called for increases to the department’s force of 47 sworn officers.
Bammer’s request has more traction now in the aftermath of public testimony about increasing incidents attributed to Laguna’s homeless population during a City Council hearing last week.
The contract ratified last week concludes bargaining agreements reached with all of the city’s employee unions. The final pact with police will cost the city about $86,000 in higher pay over the term of the contract, offset by about $34,000 in on-going annual savings as a result of higher retirement contributions by employees, said Gavin Curran, the city’s director of finance.
Police employees received no pay raise last year when they agreed to 2 percent contributions to their own retirement savings, Pietig said.
Under the new contract, sworn and unsworn members will be contributing between 6.25 percent and 11.5 percent to their retirement benefits by January 2016. The range depends on their benefit formula and retirement age, which varies depending on whether they joined the public retirement system before or after the passage of the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act, which took effect in January 2013.
Employees entering the system since the act’s passage receive reduced benefits, retire later and contribute a mandated rate of half of their pension costs. For Laguna’s police employees who joined the system after the reform, that rate amounts to 11.5 percent of the pay of sworn members and 6.25 percent for non-sworn members.
Public employees who joined before the reform receive a greater rate of compensation for each year of service and can retire as early as age 50 or 55 for sworn members and age 55 to 65 for non-sworn members. Going forward, besides lower benefits, retirement for sworn members begins at age 57 and for non-sworn members at age 62, based on the state mandate.
Contract negotiations focused on inching up retirement contributions by employees not subject to the state-mandated rate, which isn’t retroactive. Laguna’s sworn members who have a plan to retire at age 50, agreed to increase their contributions to 9 percent by January 2016, up from their current contribution of 2 percent. Those with a pre-reform plan to retire at age 55 already pay 9 percent and were not asked to pay more under the new contract.
Laguna’s non-sworn members who have a pre-reform plan to retire at age 55, will increase their retirement contributions to 8 percent by 2016, up from their current rate of 2 percent.
In pointing out concessions made by public safety employees, Bammer pleaded with the council, “I continue to ask that you replenish our sworn staffing levels to what they once were to make this town safer.” On average, an officer earns $85,500 a year, according to the current budget.
A year ago, and again at a mid-year budget update in January, when he highlighted the strain on the department in answering calls for service at the bus depot and homeless shelter in Laguna Canyon, Bammer pushed for adding a 48th sworn officer and moving to restore the force to its 2003 peak of 50 sworn officers. In January, Council members Kelly Boyd and Steve Dicterow both supported revisiting the issue at the next budget hearing in June. Last week, given the resurgent demand to increase policing downtown, Dicterow went so far as to say that he would not approve the city’s fiscal budget without the addition of a new officer to the force.
Police chief Paul Workman, who has been meeting with Boyd and Dicterow to discuss public safety issues, will report on the department’s downtown policing program at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, but he declined to tip his hand on the details in advance.