Police pension reform and other holiday good news

td1222-300px.jpg

I love to travel, but there’s not much better than being home in Boca for Christmas. The best of the holiday season to everyone in the area.

Delray gets pension reform

Delray Beach successfully completed the city’s push for pension reform this week when the Police Benevolent Association ratified a three-year contract that will save the city $21.3 million in pension contributions over 30 years.

The vote by the police department’s officers and sergeants was overwhelming. Ninety-two approved ratification while just 11 opposed it. The contract will be retroactive until Oct. 1, the start of Delray’s budget year.

For pensions, the contract divides the officers and sergeants into four tiers. Tier 1 includes all employees with at least 20 years of service and all retirees. Their pension benefits won’t change.

Tier 2 includes those with between 10 and 20 years of employment. The “multiplier” used to calculate their benefits will drop from 3.5 percent to 3 percent, and their starting benefit will be limited to $108,000, which is still generous. The lower multiplier also will apply to those in Tier 3—employees with fewer than 10 years of service, meaning they are not yet vested. For new hires—Tier 4—the multiplier will be 2.75 percent, and early retirement will be eliminated.

Not surprisingly, the contract favors seniority, which is typical with most union deals. For all but the new hires, vested officers and sergeants will get at least a 1 percent annual cost-of-living increase in their pensions. That is a perk almost no private-sector employees enjoy.

Still, the contract does a lot for pension sustainability. New hires and those not vested won’t be able to use overtime in calculating pension benefits. Delray Beach should insist on continuing that change in future contract negotiations. New hires won’t get early retirement, and their benefit will be limited to roughly two-thirds of their final average salary.

Just as important, the contract achieves the city commission’s goal of focusing more on pay for police officers when they are working. The annual starting salary will be $48,000 in the first year of the contract. The officers and sergeants will get an immediate raise to compensate for the previous three years, when salaries were frozen. There will be a merit system for raises.

In an email, Mayor Cary Glickstein said, “We achieved our objectives of substantive pension reform, with benefit reductions of over $21 million and re-establishing taxpayer control of the board that manages the pension fund’s assets, while providing substantial wage increases required to attract and retain the best law enforcement personnel in South Florida.”

Glickstein’s remark about “taxpayer control of the board” refers to another change in the contract. Delray Beach will withdraw from the state program that funnels money to cities for police and fire pensions from assessments on insurance policies. The city will lose $500,000 a year but will free itself from state rules about who manages the police-fire pension fund.

State laws allow the unions to stack the boards, reducing taxpayer accountability. The new police-fire pension board will be more like the one that oversees the pension fund for general employees, though Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman will be able to appoint one member. Glickstein notes that all board members will be Delray Beach taxpayers.

New City Manager Don Cooper thus has one fewer pension issue to worry about. But the push for reform is only half-complete. Delray’s contract with the firefighters union expires this year, and negotiations have begun.

With luck, the city and the union will be able to avoid impasse yet reach a deal that offers Delray Beach similar long-range help. Boca Raton did declare an impasse, and hearings are set for next month. Expect the Boca council to be as resolute as the Delray commission.

Where to hang your planning hat

This month, the Palm Beach County Commission debated an issue that probably seemed irrelevant to most residents but actually was important.

The question was whether the county should leave the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and join the South Florida Regional Planning Council. The Treasure Coast council describes itself as the “only regional forum where elected and appointed leaders regularly come together to discuss complex regional issues; develop strategic regional responses for resolving them; and build consensus for setting and accomplishing regional goals.”

It all sounds like something only government wonks could get excited about. Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie, though, told me why it isn’t.

The South Florida council includes Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Supporters of the switch argue that urban issues such as transportation give Palm Beach County more common interests with areas to the south. The Treasure Coast council includes Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River, much smaller counties to the north.

Haynie counters by noting how she hears constantly that Boca Raton residents “don’t want this area to be like Broward.” Delray Beach’s elected officials get the same message. The Treasure Coast council staff has been helping Delray develop new downtown building rules that will retain the city’s “village by the sea” feel. Haynie worries that the South Florida council wouldn’t be as concerned about overdevelopment.

After all the talk, the county commission voted unanimously not to switch Palm Beach County’s membership. Good move.

••••••••

You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

Missed the last City Watch?

Visit our City Watch page and also sign up for our City Watch e-newsletter, where you’ll get the latest column delivered directly to your inbox.

Previous articleBoca Mag Gives: The 2015 Giveaway
Next articleStaff Picks: a salon, shopping and great pizza
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.