City, police close in on a deal

No plans for downtown police beat

Months of negotiations between the city and police appear to be
coming to a close now that a proposal has been brought to a formal
vote before the 58 members of the police union.
Months of negotiations between the city and police appear to be coming to a close now that a proposal has been brought to a formal vote before the 58 members of the police union.

The city council will convene at 6 p.m. tonight for a closed session meeting to review the status of negotiations, City Administrator Tom Haglund said.

“The council will be brought up to date as to the current status of negotiations, which have been very, very productive,” Haglund said Monday afternoon.

However, he said he did not expect council members to cast a public vote tonight.

While Mitch Madruga, president of the Gilroy Police Officers Association, could not be reached Monday, he said Friday afternoon he was confident the police officers would approve the contract at a membership meeting scheduled for that evening.

Though parties on both sides refused to comment on the specific sticking points of the negotiations, citing a confidentiality agreement established from the outset, Haglund said the city was looking at cost savings similar to the ones they reached recently with the firefighters union.

“One thing I can say is that, in this environment, they city is looking for cost savings,” Haglund said. “We’re working to negotiate an agreement in which the labor union gives back instead of receives.”

City Council members have made it clear they want police to agree to a two-tier retirement system, in which new hires have cheaper retirement plans than current staff, after reaching a similar deal with firefighters in June.

If the police were to agree to changes similar to the ones recently accepted by the firefighters union, new officers would receive a scaled back retirement plan and all officers would begin contributing 9 percent toward their pensions, a sum the city currently contributes at a cost of about $800,000 annually.

Gilroy police officers now have a 3 percent at 50 retirement plan, meaning police accrue 3 percent of their highest annual salary for every year they work, up to 90 percent. They can start collecting these benefits at age 50.

For example, an officer who topped out at $100,000 a year and served 30 years on the force can begin collecting $90,000 upon retirement. If they were to scale back to a 2 percent at 50 plan, that same officer would collect $60,000 annually upon retirement instead. According to the City of Gilroy’s website, the department is hiring officers with a starting salary of $89,000 to $108,000.

The city also pays employee contributions on behalf of police, totaling about 9 percent of their salaries – or $800,000 for all police annually. That is in addition to the 26.25 percent employer contribution the city makes toward police pensions, which totals about $2.3 million each year.

By contrast, all newly hired firefighters under the new fire plan, which will last through June 2013, will receive a scaled back 2 percent at 55 plan, as opposed to the 3 percent at 55 plan that still applies to current employees.

The maximum percentage of their salary that firefighters will be able to collect under the new system is about 75 percent of their top wage. It’s 90 percent for current employees. The earliest firefighters could collect these benefits is at 55 years old.

In addition, all firefighters must contribute 9 percent toward their pensions, an amount the city formerly paid.

The GPOA has been meeting with the city’s negotiating team – which consists of Human Resources Director LeeAnn McPhillips, attorney Charles Sakai and a police administrator – several times a month, Madruga said. Though the union’s previous contract expired June 30, the conditions of that contract are still in place until the city and police agree on a new one, he said.

Other than confirming that they’re looking at ways to save money on pensions, council members would not detail the specifics of their proposal with police. While the two-tier system will save the city money in the long run, the council is also looking at more immediate ways to save, Councilman Craig Gartman said.

“Our desire is to try and save the city as much money as possible so we don’t have layoffs and so we don’t have to reduce services to the community,” Gartman said. “We’re looking for ways to save today and that’s the big thing.”

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