Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/13/2011 07:02:01 AM PST

SAN BERNARDINO – Police officers may be spared layoff notices later in the year after the City Council took action to encourage early retirements in the Police Department.

The council approved a retirement enhancement program in which as many as 12 eligible officers can announce by March 1 their intention to retire in the next six months.

Councilwoman Wendy McCammack abstained from the vote.

Assistant Police Chief Mark Garcia said the program is a way to save money and save the jobs of younger officers who would face layoffs.

“It seems to us that this was a good idea to put forward based on the fact that it benefits the retiree, it benefits the younger officers, benefits the department by being able to plan forward and benefits the city by saving some money,” Garcia said.

The program could save the city $189,000 this fiscal year and provide the Police Department with a guaranteed number of vacancies, thereby reducing the number of officers potentially laid off in order to meet budget requirements.

Under the city’s current budget package, which the council approved by a two-vote margin in August, more than $11 million in budget cuts include the elimination of 27 police officer positions before July.

The Police Department estimates there will be about 14 vacant police officer positions this fiscal year that can be eliminated as part of the mandated reductions.

The elimination of 13 more positions is needed to get the department to 27, and officials hope the retirement enhancement program will help close the gap.

“If we don’t get this, we have to lay people off,” City Manager Charles McNeely said.

The eligible employees must be at least 50 years old and have a minimum of 28 years of service. Disability retirements are not allowed.

Officers who choose the package will be offered the chance to continue working part time at their current hourly rate without benefits until June 30.

Garcia said the immediate savings come through the officers not getting benefits.

A payoff of accrued leave time will be divided into two payments – one at the time of retirement and the other in January.

The Police Department will absorb the cost of the payoffs.

In order to hit savings targets, the Police Department will not promote any employees to fill the vacated positions until the new fiscal year.

The elimination of 27 officer positions is estimated to save the city more than $2.6 million a year.

Last year’s budget deal was an attempt to cut projected deficits of about $2.1 million for the fiscal year and $7.8 million next fiscal year.

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