Police pension proposal offered

Council will introduce panel's suggested plan for supplement as ordinance

Worth $375,000 for 30 years

April 09, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

The irregular hours and dangers of police work carry few financial rewards, so when the Westminster Police Department looked at increasing its pension benefits -- part of a move to attract and retain officers -- it wanted the best.

A public safety committee responsible for looking into the issue has proposed a supplement to the state pension plan covering Westminster police officers. It would cost the city about $115,000 a year and reward officers for long tenure.

"It's an exciting option that we've been able to come up with and that the city can afford," said Councilman Roy L. Chiavacci, chairman of the committee, in a presentation last night to the Common Council. "I hope it meets the kind of things the officers are looking for."

The city's current state pension plan costs local government about $90,000 a year, but doesn't offer long-term incentives for Westminster's 43 officers.

Chiavacci said the committee rejected a pension plan favored by the officers because it was too expensive. The Law Enforcement Officers Pension System (LEOPS) would have cost the city $364,000 a year, or $17 million over a 25-year period.

"The gold standard in police pensions is LEOPS," Council President Damian L. Halstad said. "But it takes a lot of gold to pay for it. It was a potential back-breaker to the city."

The Common Council reached a consensus last night to introduce the supplemental pension plan as an ordinance at its next meeting, April 22. The council could vote on it as early as May 6.

For most officers, last night's meeting was the first time they had heard about the recommended pension proposal.

"The mayor and the Common Council took this study with earnestness, sincerity and consideration of what's affordable and desirable," said Frank M. Rauschenberg, a former police officer with the Westminster department. As the representative of the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, he offered no opinion on the plan.

Under the proposal, all of the city's police officers would be eligible for the pension plan, which the city would finance from its general fund.

For each officer, an annual contribution would be made that would increase with his or her time on the force. The city would contribute 5 percent of a new recruit's annual base salary to the plan. The city's contribution would increase to 9 percent after 20 years. Vesting would occur after five years of employment.

Over a 30-year span, a new officer could accumulate $375,000 in pension benefits through the supplemental plan.

"If they become disabled, related to an on-the-job incident, the city will continue to pay" into the plan until retirement age, Chiavacci said.

In a move city officials hope will sway officers to accept the pension plan, they have added an option that would allow them to retire and be able to draw funds from the plan after 25 years. The yield would be about $227,000.

"The retirement enhancement was the final step for providing benefits in assisting recruitment and retention efforts," Chiavacci said. "Municipalities often serve as a training ground for bigger departments who can offer more money or additional benefits."

For two years, the city has tried to provide more incentives to retain its officers. Police salaries have been increased and officers who live in town are allowed to take home their police vehicles.

"Those acts were well-received, but there was always the final issue on the table: the pension," Halstad said.

The Common Council decided last year to allot $24,000 to research the options for a city pension program for the Police Department. Other options, including one that would have required the city to create an independent pension plan, were rejected.

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