By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Healdsburg police employees have a new labor contract that will require them to pay more toward their pension and medical benefits.
The City Council late Monday adopted the new two-year union contract that which will require all employees to pay 10 percent of the cost of their medical coverage by 2014, in contrast to the last agreement where the city covered the full cost.
And new employees will get less generous pension benefits. Instead of being eligible to retire at age 50 with three percent of their salary for every year of service, sworn officers will be eligible for two percent beginning at 50 years old. That’s a one-third reduction in their pension.
“The employees stepped up and realized things can’t remain the way they were; it’s not sustainable,” said Mayor Gary Plass.
Police employees who are not officers will be eligible to retire at 60, with two percent salary per year, compared to the previous formula of 2.5 percent at age 55.
City utility electrical workers also agreed to a revised contract with a similar retirement formula for new employees of “two percent at 60.”
“They’ve given us concessions. Things they’ve had, we’ve taken away,” Plass said.
Police department employees also will have to pay the full employee contribution toward their pension, or nine percent of their salary, rather than the former eight percent contribution.
“We’re trying to do what we can to help the city out,” said Sgt. Luis Rodriguez, head of the 21-member Police Officers Association.
Plass, a retired Healdsburg Police sergeant, said the city will likely be looking for even more concessions in future contracts.
The city has had to rely on cash reserves to balance its budget, but finance officials project those could be exhausted in a few years if expenditures aren’t reined in.
“We’ve got a long ways to go,” Plass said. “Pension reform and medical reform will take some time.”
Some police employees will accrue vacation time sooner under the new contract, but “we didn’t get back anything monetarily,“ Rodriguez said. “It’s pretty much all of us (employees) giving.”
The number of sworn officers has been reduced the past three years from a high of 18 to 15 now. But the city agreed to no additional police layoffs while the contract is in effect.
Since 2008 there have been no cost-of-living increases for police and most other city employees, Plass said.
Under the new contract, rookie patrol officers will start at five percent less than before, or $61,008 a year.
Top-tier patrol officers still will receive $75,000 annually.
The City Council has received criticism that the pension scheme for new police officers is overly stingy, compared to reforms in other jurisdictions.
The concern is that it will lead to Healdsburg becoming a “training ground,” where officers quickly move on.
“That is an issue we will have to watch and see how it works,” Plass said.