City, police on lookout for pension plan

Council rejects proposal opposed by officers


May 19, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Westminster officials are working with the city's Police Department to come up with a suitable pension plan - one that will satisfy the retirement needs of the 43-member force as well as attract and retain officers.

The Common Council withdrew its proposed supplemental retirement plan last week after officers voiced opposition. Officers want a plan that would allow them to retire after 25 years - something the city's proposal lacked.

"We're not going to bring forth any plan without this," said Councilman Roy L. Chiavacci, chairman of the council's public safety committee.

The city has reserved about $125,000 for the pension plan in the fiscal budget approved last week.

Under the rejected proposal, the city would have deposited the equivalent of 5 percent to 9 percent - depending on length of service - of an officer's annual salary into an account similar to a savings plan. Officers would have had to work 30 years to receive the plan's maximum benefits.

At a public hearing last month, members of the Westminster Police Association disapproved of the plan.

Officers objected to several key components - the most serious being the plan's reliability on investments for revenue, the 30-year threshold for maximum benefits and the plan's failure to reward officers for long tenure, allowing new members of the force to reap more benefits than senior employees.

"I don't think it's prudent for the city to move forward with a plan that most of the officers apparently don't want," said Council President Damian L. Halstad.

He said the two sides will explore other possibilities.

City officials have worked for a month to overcome hard feelings about the initial plan and are working with officers on an alternative proposal.

"I think where we may focus next is on a city-run system that perhaps can provide for a 25-year retirement. The nuances of all of these options are complicated," Halstad said. "We're going to have to spend some time on possibilities."

The department wants something close to an existing plan, the Law Enforcement Officers' Pension System, or LEOPS.

The plan allows officers to retire after 25 years or at age 50.

Monthly, the retiree receives 50 percent of the average of his three highest consecutive annual salaries.

Cambridge, a town on Maryland's Eastern Shore with about the same size force as Westminster's - 45 - adopted LEOPS for its officers last year.

"We want to mirror LEOPS but add flexibility to it to make it more affordable," Chiavacci said.

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