In talks initiated by employees, a 6-percent pay increase due police officers in Murrieta will instead be used to pay a portion of their retirement costs.
Murrieta city council voted unanimously Tuesday to enact labor contract amendments with the Murrieta Police Management Association and Murrieta Police Officers Association.
MPOA and MPMA also agreed to pay 50 percent of any increases in their medical insurance rates incurred after Jan. 1, 2013. The city currently pays $1,305.28 toward employee benefits.
Further, the retirement benefit age was pushed back five years for new officers. Under the new two-tier retirement system, those who join the force after Dec. 31, 2014 can not retire on a 3-percent public pension benefit until the age of 55. Those hired prior to that date will still receive the 3 percent at age 50 retirement formula.
City management responded to emailed questions about the agreements. ()
Patch received comments from a police representative upon inquiring about the agreements.
Murrieta police Capt. Dennis Vrooman, who serves as the president of the six-member management association, said Thursday that the talks began as an effort to help the city balance its budget.
"The trigger mechanisms for the raises were supposed to take effect July 1 and we knew the city wasn't going to be able to do that," Vrooman said. "We needed to go to the table and find a solution and be proactive about it."
The city has a in its current $34.4-million general fund operating budget, of which police make up 67 percent. Salaries for other city departments such as fire, library and community services are not part of general fund expenditures but are included in a larger overall city budget of nearly $66.13 million in expenditures.
In May, the city laid off eight full-time and six part-time employees. and have said they will return to the bargaining table.
"We were aware of all this and said 'what can we do as MPMA?'" Vrooman said.
Four lieutenants and two captains belong to MPMA, while MPOA is made up of 79 officers, corporals and sergeants. There are 86 sworn officers, including management and the police chief—down from 92 in brighter budget years.
"A lot of things are tied to the officers' association—we have a clause in our contracts—so in turn we approached the MPOA and together as a team we approached the city," Vrooman said.
The agreements are expected to save the city $258,873 this fiscal year and $517,747 in following years, according to a city staff report.
Previously, MPOA had spread out and pushed back the agreed upon 6-percent raise at the request of the city over a three-year period, according to MPOA President and Murrieta police Sgt. Don Weller.
MPOA members were due 3 percent on July 1, 1.5 percent July 1, 2013 and 1.5 percent June 30, 2014, Weller wrote in an email to Patch.
The initial 3 percent "was originally due in January 2012, but we pushed that back too til July 2012 in order to help the city out," Weller wrote.
The concessions made by MPMA were similar in nature, including the 6 percent toward retirement and 50-percent share of future health insurance rate increases.
While police won't see a tangible pay increase, Vrooman said there were benefits to be had.
The public will not be affected by services cuts, he said.
Also, pension reform will save the city money and help the department attract and retain officers, he said. That will keep the department competitive with neighboring ones that have also recently adopted two-tier retirement programs, such as San Bernardino, Riverside and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, he said.
"It provides some stability of projected costs for the city and employees so we both see it as a win-win," Vrooman said. "It is the right thing to do—and at the right time—in light of what is going on with the economy and at the state level. In the last several years the economy has been the same and it will mostly likely continue."