City can’t afford firefighters’ request

City officials and Gilroy firefighters are approaching a
delicate and important issue in labor negotiations. Firefighters
are expected to demand a retirement package that matches the overly
generous package that Gilroy police officers currently enjoy,
popularly dubbed the

3-at-50 plan.

City officials and Gilroy firefighters are approaching a delicate and important issue in labor negotiations. Firefighters are expected to demand a retirement package that matches the overly generous package that Gilroy police officers currently enjoy, popularly dubbed the “3-at-50 plan.”

Under this program, police officers receive three percent of their final year’s pay for every year of service, up to 30 years. This means that a GPD officer can potentially retire at 50 and still receive 90 percent of his or her salary life.

While we appreciate the service that our public safety employees offer, the 3-at-50 plan is too much and too costly for the residents of Gilroy to bear. Many municipalities, like San Diego, are facing bankruptcy because the pension plans they were shown on paper that “wouldn’t cost them anything” because the CalPERS pension investments were so strong, are actually costing staggering sums.

And judging by the number of applicants for infrequent job openings in Gilroy, the burdensome pensions are not a necessary recruiting tool.

Given life spans today, it’s entirely possible for a police officer to receive this generous retirement package for more years than he or she served as a Gilroy police officer.

Someone has to pay for that attractive benefit, and that very heavy burden falls on Gilroy taxpayers.

The city says that instituting the 3-at-50 retirement package for police officers has caused a precipitous spike in public safety retirement expenses. The city’s payouts for public safety retirement benefits rose from $895,615 in 2001 to $3.2 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

No one’s saying how much a 3-at-50 retirement package for firefighters would increase taxpayers’ burden, but City Administrator Jay Baksa has called it “unsustainable.” Clearly, unless Gilroy wants to cut employees and expenses from other departments, this is true.

The fact that this benefit is far more generous than any private sector employee receives for retirement is reason enough to oppose it. The unfair burden it places on taxpayers makes it unconscionable.

But there are more reasons to reject the 3-at-50 plan. We question the wisdom of using a fat retirement package as an employment incentive. And we urge firefighters to remember that every dollar spent on retirement packages is a dollar that can’t be spent fully staffing the understaffed Sunrise Fire Station or staffing a needed fourth Gilroy fire station.

Further, it negates the ability of the city to use tax dollars for other important programs like recreation, parks and road maintenance and planning.

We urge firefighters to think about the good of the entire community as they continue their labor negotiations with Gilroy officials.

There’s a finite amount of money available and many legitimate demands for it. A retirement package that allows

firefighters to retire at 50 with almost full pay should not be

at the top of Gilroy’s list. The quality of life for all

Gilroyans should not be sacrificed for expensive lifelong

pensions for a few.

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