By Sallie James
Boca Raton police officers will receive annual 2 percent raises for the next three years under a three-year contract that also requires police personnel to contribute more to their pension plan.
Similarly, city firefighters will also receive annual 2 percent raises for the next three years under their newly negotiated contract. The Boca Raton/International Association of Firefighters Local 1560 also agreed to changes in the pension plan that should make the plan actuarially sound, a fire official said.
Together, the revisions are expected to save the city approximately $100 million over the next 30 years. The city has 184 police officers and 200 firefighters.
According to Boca Raton Police Officer John Cagno, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, the numbers were reached after lengthy negotiations with the city. “We are satisfied,” Cagno said. The resulting contract was a “happy medium,” he said.
The annual 2 percent raises are an improvement over their last contract, which provided for zero percent, 1 percent and 2 percent raises over a three-year contract, he said. The newly negotiated contract was delayed a year, adding a fourth year — with no raise — to their last contract, Cagno said.
Under the new contract provisions, police personnel will be upping their pension contributions from 10.3 percent to 11.5 percent, Cagno said. In addition, retirees will get a maximum of 77 percent of the average of their last three years’ pay before retirement. Previously, they could earn a maximum of 87.5 percent.
The final contract has not yet been ratified by the union membership.
The Fire Rescue contract includes two caps: Under the changes, firefighter pensions across the board will be capped at $100,000, said Matt Welhaf, vice president of the Local 1560.
Firefighter pensions will also be capped at 90 percent of the last three years’ average salary before retirement. Previously, there was no cap.
The changes will ensure the pension plan remains solvent, Welhaf said.
“I think everybody believes it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “The plan will be healthy, it will be 100 percent funded and it is reasonable for the public. We negotiated to take the cost of this down by 60 percent. We tried to do a good thing with this contract and I think we did.”
City activist Betty Grinnan, one of the founders of Boca Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, has made it her mission to inform the public about what she believes were unsustainable costs of firefighter pensions and salaries. She and Judith Teller Kaye sent email newsletters to alert 2,500 residents after the council turned a deaf ear to their warnings at its goal-setting financial summit last May. They got the city’s attention.
Grinnan declined comment on the newly negotiated contracts, saying she had not been able to personally review them yet. Grinnan said city officials told her actuaries were examining the contracts.
“You can say a lot of things in terms of saving, but I don’t know until I see the numbers what the savings to the city will be,” Grinnan said. “I think that our group — Boca Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility — has made the savings for the city greater than it would have been had we not called the public’s attention to the problem. The growth in the cost of public safety was unsustainable in the long run.”
By Sallie James