Antioch Council approves increase in pension benefits for lateral police hires, other employees
By James Ott
In a proclaimed attempt to lure veteran police officers to combat it’s surging crime rates, Antioch City Council voted during their special Christmas week meeting on Thursday, December 27, 2012 to raise the pension benefits for certain new police hires.
With a four to one vote – Councilman Gary Agopian was the lone dissenter – the city council reversed course on a decision it made earlier this year to pare back police retirement benefits through a Public Employees Retirement System, (PERS) contract change that sought to reduce financial strain on the city.
Just months ago the city had voted to reduce the pension plans for new police hires from a “3 percent at 50” pension calculation formula to a cheaper-for-the-city “3 percent at 55” formula.
The old pension calculation would mean that eligible police officers would be able to start collecting pension at age 55 that is equal to 3 percent of their final year of pay multiplied by the number of years they served. Tuesday’s vote will allow police hired before Jan. 1 of this year to collect that same pension five years earlier. Estimates say the move will cost the city $4,500 more per qualified officer, per year.
In an effort to be fair and consistent for all city workers, Thursday’s vote also boosts the pension plans for certain new public employees and other future hires as well. Veteran employees hired for non-police work – including 7 recent hires who will be credited retro-actively – will get an increase from the old “2 percent at 55” formula to a higher-earning “2.7 percent at age 55.”
This pension restructuring is expected to cost $23,670 extra per year for those hires already employed by the city that will benefit from the change.
Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando was the primary founder and supporter of the idea to increase police benefits, saying that Antioch has had a lot of trouble attracting enough officers to fill it’s ranks.
The city is looking to hire up to 30 additional officers within the next year and a half and Cantando said that they need all the help they can get to attract quality officers. In particular Cantando said that he is looking to use the new pension plan to hire veteran officers from other cities or even out of state officers who will bring a lot of experience and need little training, which could also save the city money.
“What people need to understand is that if we hire an entry level [officer] that we have to put through the academy, they’re going to be in the academy for six months and we’re going to be paying them a reduced salary and a minimum benefit while they’re in the academy,” Cantando said.
That doesn’t include the FTO program that rookies would then have to be in for up to four months as well, said Cantando. So, while they will inevitably hire less experienced trainees, Cantando wants to use perks like the newly upgraded pension plan hire veterans who will be able to avoid nearly a year of training that would keep them off of the streets fighting crime.
Cantando has previously stated however, that he has not personally had any potential hires tell him that the city’s current retirement plan would prevent them from taking up a police position with Antioch.
Nevertheless, Cantando and most of the council feel that the new pension perks could help bring quality new officers to a city in dire need of them.
Antioch’s Human Resources Director Michelle Fitzer has said that the city council could also consider offering additional incentives such as an increased base pay or lump-sum cash payments if the police department continues to struggle to bring in enough new officers.