Months after police opposed a pension plan proposed by the city, Westminister's Common Council was presented last night with a new plan that would give officers what they want: retirement at age 50, or after 25 years of service, and an increased yearly payout.
"I'm optimistic it's going to meet with favorable consideration with other members of the council," said Councilman Roy L. Chiavacci, chairman of the public safety committee. He and council President Damian L. Halstad worked closely with members of the police force to research pension plans and chose the Law Enforcement Officers' Pension System, which is used by Maryland state troopers.
Officers now are allowed to retire at age 55, or after 30 years on the force with yearly payouts ranging from 32 percent to 42 percent. Under the proposal, officers could retire after 25 years and earn 50 percent of the average of their three highest paying years.
The new plan would cost $364,000 a year, or $17 million over 25 years after factoring in inflation and additional officers, according to a study conducted by the city. The city had set aside $125,000 for a pension enhancement plan proposed in the spring, but it ran into strong opposition from police and was withdrawn by the council.
To make up the more than $200,000 difference, the city first would try to tap into state rebates, which would become available if the proposed pension system is adopted. The city should receive about $180,000 a year for 25 years in rebates.
In what Chiavacci called an "accelerated payback," city officials will request to be given state money over fewer years and to get more of it up front. The city also expects officers' contributions to total about $65,000 a year. As a last resort, a tax increase also will also be considered, said Chiavacci.
"All the other plans that would have mirrored LEOPS would've been as expensive and LEOPS is specifically designed by the state to offer officers attractive benefits," Chiavacci said, adding that the plan is designed to recognize the dangerous aspects of police work and to promote recruitment and retention in the department.
"The meetings were good," said Sgt. Chris Ilyes, who was on the committee and is a representative of the Westminster Police Association. "We got a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. It was the best plan for the money. Private plans would've cost the same as LEOPS, so we might as well go with the Cadillac. Officers are happy about it."
Ilyes said that officers have decided to forgo their pay raises next year to support the plan. The current plan has been criticized for its 30-year retirement requirement, which officers say is too long for those who want to take on a new job after they retire. Police also say the payout provisions don't give families enough income.
The council proposed a supplemental retirement plan in April, but withdrew it in May after officers and residents opposed the idea. 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.
The new plan could be introduced as an ordinance as early as the next council meeting Nov. 25, but would not take effect until July.