Monica Rodriguez, Staff Writer
Created: 09/27/2010 09:42:37 PM PDT

POMONA – City leaders recently gave preliminary approval to a proposed ordinance leading to changes in retirement benefits affecting future members of the Police Department.

The proposed ordinance, approved unanimously Sept. 20, will return to the City Council on Oct. 18 for final approval, according to a city staff report.

Once it is approved, the city can move forward to complete an agreement with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System necessary to establish a new retirement plan for officers joining the department after Nov. 18, the staff report said.

This would create a two-tier retirement program in which current sworn members of the department with 30 years of service can receive 90 percent of the highest salary they earned starting at the age of 50 and continuing until their death.

Under the new arrangement, new officers would have to work until the age of 55 to receive such benefits.

The change is expected to reduce Pomona’s contribution rate into the program from 24.737 percent to 22.866 percent of salary for new hires.

Police Chief Dave Keetle said he doesn’t expect the change to have an effect on recruitment efforts.

“I don’t think it’s that big of an impact,” Keetle said recently. “It could have a slight impact if we’re competing with another department.”

However, that could change as more cities take steps similar to what Pomona is doing, he said.

“It’s definitely the trend,” Keetle said. “It’s because of the fiscal crunch on everyone” that Montclair recently made a similar move.

Pomona Police Officers’ Association President Rob Baker said the new arrangement was negotiated with the city and is part of the officers’ labor agreement.

Most new officers do not start out thinking about retirement benefits, Baker said. New officers usually think about their new career and making a difference in the communities they serve, Baker said.

“Retirement benefits become important as you get older,” he said.

Although law-enforcement work is physically demanding, Baker said, the combination of education and greater health consciousness means officers are living and working longer.

California Peace Officers’ Association President Jim McDonnell said new retirement plans will become more common with time.

“That’s the wave of the future,” McDonnell said.

With the economic pressures local governments face, this is an option that works for officers and will help governments save money.

Within the last two years, several law-enforcement labor groups around the state have reported the establishment of such retirement programs for incoming members, said Ron Cottingham, the president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California.

The CPOA is an umbrella organization for 890 public- safety unions in California and Nevada and represents 62,000 members of local, state and some federal personnel.

Organizations around the state, including the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, which has 10,000 members, have agreed to a similar program for new hires, he said.

This retirement plan may sound generous, but “very few people retire with a full benefits package,” Cottingham said, adding only about 1 percent of public safety personnel receive such compensation.

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