To see why local pension reform can be such a struggle, just look at what’s happening in Roseville.
In May, after months of failed negotiations, the City Council imposed the city’s “last, best and final offer” on the police officers union. To save $875,000 a year, the city required sworn officers to pay the full employee contribution to their pension plan.
The Roseville Police Officers Association went ballistic. It warned residents that morale would be damaged and public safety put at risk. The union also made it plain that it would become more politically aggressive to make sure it had friends in charge of the purse strings. The terms imposed by the city stand until there’s a new contract. The city and the RPOA, representing about 100 sworn officers, have just restarted talks.
Roseville’s negotiating position, however, could be weakened by a proposed deal with non-sworn police personnel that is going before the City Council on Wednesday. Council members should be wary.
While the 55 dispatchers and records clerks would pay their full employee pension share by next July, they would receive salary increases in return – 1.5 percent next July, plus another 1.5 percent raise in January 2015. In addition, they would get 45 more hours a year in personal leave time they could cash out, plus $85 more a month from the city toward their medical plan. The deal also calls for limiting retirement health benefits for new workers, which the city says will substantially reduce its long-term unfunded liability.
In the short run, however, the trade-offs will cost the city more – $142,699 in the general fund through December 2015. If it takes those sweeteners to get the non-sworn personnel to accept higher pension payments, won’t the more politically powerful sworn officers demand at least the same? If they end up with a cushier deal, council members may have more job security, but taxpayers will pay the bill.
There’s no doubt that cops have a dangerous job, as displayed again by the Oct. 25 shootout during which three Roseville officers were hurt. That’s not the issue. The question facing local governments is how much they can afford to pay in pension and other benefits to retirees, yet keep enough cops on the street to adequately protect residents.
If it’s so difficult for a relatively affluent, conservative and safe city like Roseville to achieve real pension reform, what can other cities expect? It certainly won’t happen unless elected officials show some political courage and unless business and community leaders stand up for them.