Almanac

News - May 11, 2011

Menlo Park proposal: Freeze pay for police sergeants

by Sandy Brundage

It's hard to think of a more hot-button topic in Menlo Park right now than public employee pensions. As the result of a new dedication to transparent labor negotiations, the city released a memo outlining proposed terms for a renewed contract with the Menlo Park Police Sergeants Association two weeks in advance of the contract going before the council for approval on May 24.

The proposal would freeze the salaries of Menlo Park's eight sergeants for two years. The previous contract provided an average 3 percent pay raise every six months since January 2009.

Four sergeants who work patrol shifts would see their annual patrol hours cut by 104, which the staff report estimates would save $36,000. Automatic health benefit increases, where the city would pay 85 percent of any increase, also got the ax.

For new hires, the union agreed to provide pension benefits using a "3 percent at 55" formula based on the average of the highest three years' salary. The staff report notes that as many as six new sergeants may be hired by 2012 as older officers retire. According to the police department, all eight of the current sergeants were promoted from within the organization, and have served six to 30 years in Menlo Park, with an average of 18 years.

Do the changes represent actual savings? Ed Moritz, one of the driving forces behind the pension reform initiative passed in November, isn't sure. Describing the staff report as deficient in several critical areas, he asked the city to provide a comparison of pay levels between the sergeants and FBI employees. "The Council asked for this in the opening discussion in early April. It's disappointing the staff seemed to have ignored this direct Council request," he said in an email. "It's the only way the public will know what pay level is reasonable and competitive."

Other areas he'd like to see explored are reducing the percent value between pay steps — currently at 5 percent — or a promise to take no steps for the duration of the two-year contract; increasing employee pension contributions; and discussing sick leave, which the report fails to include.

The proposal does increase employee pension contributions from 9 to 12 percent, with an estimated annual savings of $39,000. Mr. Moritz suggested that should be even larger, saying that the sergeants are among the highest paid employees and will receive the highest retirement benefits. "At the same time the city portion will be 21% and is projected to rise to over 30% in the next several years," he wrote, based on CalPERS projections for police employees.

Go to tinyurl.com/4xtj9q3 to read the proposed agreement and staff report.

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