Elisabeth Nardi, 8/19/10
Police managers in Walnut Creek have agreed to contribute to their pensions and to accept two-year pay freezes — deep and painful concessions from a group used to getting raises.
The Walnut Creek City Council voted unanimously this week to approve the contract after three months of negotiations.
Councilman Gary Skrel, who has voted against most employee contracts in the past few years, saying the changes were not structural, said he supports this agreement because it shows leadership.
“It’s an agreement that creates a building block for our future financial stability,” he said.
The contract is for the 17 officers — captains, sergeants and lieutenants — in the managers’ association. It calls for a salary freeze, a 7 percent employee pension contribution phased in over two years and a 45 percent reduction in “medical deferral,” the money the city pays an employee for not using the city’s health plans. The agreement also says a less expensive pension formula could be applied to new hires.
The contract’s pay scale ranges from $93,505 annually for beginning sergeants to $150,034 a year for veteran captains.
This is a far cry from where police management was in 2008, when it saw 4.4 percent pay raises plus cost-of-living increases.
Union attorney Rocky Lucia declined to give a specific vote count but said the tally was very close. The members are not happy, but they agreed to the contract to avoid harsher council-imposed cuts.
“Our guys get it, that cities need to rein in costs, but we don’t like having those cuts at the cost of compromising the quality of men and women who will work (and stay) at the Walnut Creek Police Department,” he said.
Members are concerned because, under the contract, officers in the Walnut Creek Police Officers Association can actually end up making more money and having better benefits than their managers, he said.
“This is not a healthy situation,” Lucia said. “Citizens of Walnut Creek should be concerned.”
The agreement will save an estimated $586,000 over two years and comes after the city closed a $20 million budget deficit.
Walnut Creek Mayor Sue Rainey said it is no longer sustainable for cities to pay an employee’s share of retirement.
Police Chief Joel Bryden said the officers’ willingness to cooperate and take cuts is huge.
“I am very proud of that group,” he said. “They are the reason we have such a good police department. They are the leaders.”
He said the contracts are important because he wants Walnut Creek to remain competitive with other cities in attracting and keeping officers.
Lucia said that with contracts such as these, city leaders should be concerned.
“A lot of cities are not making (police) pay what this city is making them pay,” he said. “They need to look at what the long-term impacts are going to be. Many other (police departments) pay a lot more money and offer better pension and medical benefits then the city of Walnut Creek.”
The 111-employee Walnut Creek Police Department has not had layoffs, but several positions have been frozen over the past two years.