ANTIOCH -- Citing the need to help its police department entice veteran officers to a city battling a crime surge, the City Council voted this week to reinstate pension benefits it scaled back earlier in the year.
Antioch will change its contract with the state's Public Employees' Retirement System to a "3 percent at 50" formula for veteran public safety hires and "2.7 percent at 55" for veteran employees hired for other city jobs.
"I'm very pleased. This gives us an additional tool in trying to recruit officers around the state and makes (the department) more attractive," police Chief Allan Cantando said.
Antioch is looking to fill about 25 to 30 sworn officer vacancies in the next 18 months with a blend of veteran and rookie hires. City leaders Thursday set a cap of five veteran officers to be hired over that time.
The move will cost Antioch an additional $4,500 for each hired veteran officer and $23,670 total for all other city employees each year.
Cantando lobbied for the pension change last month, saying the recruiting efforts of the Antioch police have been hindered by the current pension rules.
"(The formula change) puts us on a level playing field," he said.
Concord, Richmond, San Pablo and Vallejo are among the East Bay cities that use the 3 percent at 50 retirement formula for sworn police staff. Brentwood, Pittsburg and Walnut Creek use the 3 percent at 55 formula.
The "3 percent at 50" pension
The three-year average calculation remains with Thursday's decision.
Mayor Wade Harper said the council was not trying to undo all the savings from employee concessions. "We are facing a crisis here, an unintended consequence, when it comes to hiring police officers," Harper said. "We need to get those boots on the streets."
After Antioch made the "3 percent at 55" switch, Gov. Jerry Brown signed new statewide laws that further reduced benefit levels.
Under a new state law, future lateral hires will earn pension benefits under the formula in effect at the end of this year, while the retirement formula cap for rookie government hires after Jan. 1 will be 2.7 percent at age 57 for public safety and 2.5 percent at age 67 for other employees.
The council voted 4-1 in favor of the change. Gary Agopian cast the lone dissenting vote.
Agopian said he's gone back and forth on the item since it was brought up last month, noting Antioch has hired 21 nonsafety employees since 2007, with eight coming from other municipalities without the added incentive.
"At the end of the day, we don't know if this is the best way to go," he said.
Given the council's desire, capping the number of veteran police hires at five was "tight and appropriate," Agopian said.
According to CalPERS data, Antioch will pay $27,556 annually per lateral officer in retirement costs, compared with $23,054 under the "3 percent at 55" formula.
Lateral hires cost $32,457 each in retirement under Antioch's old "3 percent at 50" formula.
"We're still realizing a savings; it's just not as great," said Michelle Fitzer, the city's human resources director.
Cantando hopes to start advertising the new pension formula in public safety trade publications early next year. It would take four to six months to get candidates through the interview process and onto the street, he said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.