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Campaign debate: Are Manteca cops paid too much?
The above survey was conducted by the City of Manteca Administrative Services department of eight other cities in terms of the compensation they provide a police officer with 10 years of experience. - photo by Graph courtesy of the City of Manteca
Whether Manteca Police pay is out-of-line has emerged as an issue in the Nov. 2 election.

Critics contend the incumbents up for re-election - Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford as well as council members Vince Hernandez and John Harris- were irresponsible in granting a four-year contract and that Manteca Police are “overpaid.”

A survey of eight other area departments conducted by the city’s Administrative Services Department on wages and benefits in place on Jan. 1, 2010 places the base pay of a rank-and-file police officer with 10 years experience as top among nine cities. But once net compensation is determined using other benefits and what the officer pays toward their own retirement Manteca comes in third. And the difference between Manteca and the median established by the survey of the other departments that encompass Modesto, Stockton, Roseville, Lodi, Turlock, Livermore, Folsom, and Tracy is 3 percent of $344.61 a month.

Had the Manteca Police Officers Association agreed to forgo the 4 percent raise this past year that was part of a pre-negotiated four-year contract  it would have reduced their compensation by almost $305 parting them right at median among the nine departments when it comes to net compensation. That decision prompted the council to reduce the ranks of police by 12 officers in order to cover the wages and benefits of the remaining officers and keep the city budget balanced.

 While a Manteca Police officer’s base pay of $7,615 a month is the highest among the nine cities coming in at $1,405 higher than Livermore, $1,210 higher than Stockton, $1,782 more than Modesto, and $910 more than Tracy by the time other compensation is factored into the equation and the amount officers pay into retirement is factored in Manteca is no longer on top. They make $1,560 less a month than Livermore officers and $477 less a month than Stockton officers.

That’s because other cities have some benefits that are larger in terms of per cost per officer. The big difference though is that Manteca officers pay 9 percent of the monthly tab that it costs the city to fund the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) account for each officer.

“You have to stay competitive,” said Councilman Harris who was on the council when the four-year contract went into effect and was also on the council when all employee groups - including the police - were given the option of forgoing annual raises or avoiding layoffs within their respective units.

“It is important to stay competitive as you do not want a Mickey Mouse police department,” Harris, who is a retired probation officer, added.

One critic in a letter to the Bulletin said what Manteca ended up with was mediocre cops who were overpaid.

“Are officers overpaid for the work they do?” Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford asked rhetorically. “They have a very, very dangerous job.”

While some candidates seeking election have told supporters they intend to cut police salaries if elected, Weatherford sees things differently. He believes the real issue is being ready to add police officers when the revenue outlook changes and not cutting back compensation.

He noted the city is building up a cushion thanks in part to the sale of some land but that he isn’t in favor of spending it yet on general fund expenses as he wants to see whether the “recovery” - as proclaimed by some - continues building or instead stalls.

“At the earliest feasible time we need to add back officers,” said Weatherford who is a retired Manteca Police chief and former police chief-city manager of Galt.

Retirement plan is vested right
As for reducing existing pay and benefits such as retirement plans that some candidates have said they’ll do, City Manager Steve Pinkerton noted that is “virtually impossible to do.”

“Unless you have employees willing to give up a vested right, which has never happened when it comes to retirement, it isn’t going to happen,” Pinkerton said.

New hires, though, are another issue. The city could easily adopt a policy that lowers the retirement benefits for new hires in every city position. What they can’t do based on court rulings is reduce a vested right such as a pre-agreed upon retirement benefit for existing employees.

The two most expensive retirement packages in the city are for police and firefighters. Police can retire at age 50 with 3 percent for every year of service. That means if they work for 20 years they’d get 60 percent of their highest year’s pay. So if they are making $8,000 a month in their final year and retired after working 20 years they’d receive $4,800 a month. If they worked 30 years and were making $8,000 their final year they’d receive 90 percent of their salary or $7,200 a month in retirement.

Firefighters receive 3 percent for every year of service if they retire at age 55.

Pinkerton during budget hearings in July noted the city’s goal is to have the next employee contract wages in place before the start of the July 1, 2011 fiscal year although the current contracts with all employees expire on Dec. 31, 2011.

That is because they want to know the cost for wages and benefits when building the 2011-12 fiscal year budgets for municipal operations.

Pinkerton noted the council had no power to eliminate or cut raises arbitrarily given there was a negotiated contract in place. The concessions had to be made by the individual employee bargaining units.