Under the resolution passed, an amendment would be made at a future meeting to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) contract to allow police officers hired from other agencies to retire as early as age 50 while collecting pensions equal to 3 percent of their top salary for every year served. All other employees who work under PERS could retire at age 55 while collecting 2.7 percent. Those hired since 2007 collect at 2 percent.
The move was precipitated mainly as a recruiting tool for the Antioch Police Department to attract officers to transfer from other agencies.
“Do we want 30 21-year-olds on the street?” asked Tom Fuhrmann, president of the Antioch Police Officers Association. “I don’t think so. You have to have a good mix of young and lateral officers to help cross train.”
The decision comes after the city and the Antioch Police Officers Association had agreed in September to amend the PERS contract so police hired after Sept. 1 of this year would need to wait until age 55 to start collecting the pension benefits.
Although an ordinance to amend the contract needs to be passed at a later meeting, councilmembers spoke favorably of the change. The increased benefits would cost the city more money, but exact figures were not available in time for Tuesday’s meeting.
The ordinance must be passed before the end of the year because legislation goes into effect Jan 1. that dictates existing members of PERS, who are hired by another public agency, receive the new agency’s benefits. All new police employees hired after Jan. 1 will be covered under a new statewide 2.7 at 57 pension plan.
“We got one shot at this,” said Mayor Pro Tem Wade Harper. “After Dec. 31, we don’t get to go back.”
According to Human Resource Director Michelle Fitzer, the city is actively trying to hire police officers to fill 15 vacancies, but few officers from outside agencies are applying.
“We would like to explore ways to increase this department, but how can we do this when we can’t even hire to what it is today?” asked Councilman Gary Agopian.
According to Antioch Police Chief Alan Cantando, increasing benefits will attract quality candidates. “We want to keep our standards high when choosing candidates,” Cantando said.
Vallejo, Richmond and San Pablo, which are similar in call volume to Antioch, all use the 3 percent at 50 formula while Brentwood and Pittsburg use a 3 percent at 55 formula.
Cantando expects the city will need to hire 10 to 12 officers in the next year, and about 25 over the next 18 months to replace outgoing officers, most of whom are retiring. It takes between 150 and 175 applicants to find one that makes it through all the prescreening to become an officer.
“We are going to need every tool available,” Cantando said.
The council will meet again Dec. 4 to decide whether to amend the contract.