ANTIOCH -- Calling it a way to entice veteran cops and boost public safety, leaders here will vote next week on reinstating pension benefits scaled back earlier this year to save costs.
Antioch is considering amending its contract with the state Public Employees' Retirement System back to a "3 percent at age 50" formula for veteran public safety hires and "2.7 percent at age 55" formula for employees hired for other city jobs.
The move being considered Thursday would cost Antioch an additional $4,500 for each hired veteran officer and $23,670 total for all other city employees each year. Police Chief Allan Cantando, who says Antioch is having "recruitment dilemmas" in filling department vacancies, is pushing for the change.
Antioch is looking to fill about 25 to 30 sworn officer vacancies in the next 18 months. And that's just to get back to 100 officers -- 27 below the level the department is authorized to have.
"We're going to need every (recruiting) tool available. I'm concerned about my staffing on the streets. We need to get bodies back out there so we can be able to respond to crime," Cantando said.
The hiring process is more daunting given that it can take more than 100 applicants to find one qualified officer to hire. At an interview last month for lateral hire candidates, all five folks scheduled for interviews canceled or were no shows, Cantando said.
Officers from other agencies, or lateral hires, are likely not going to want to leave their present jobs for Antioch if it means reduced benefits, he said.
The "3 percent at 50" pension calculation means police are entitled to retire starting at age 50 with 3 percent of their final year of pay multiplied by years of service. Antioch switched its contract with its police union earlier this year to a "3 percent at 55" formula, which allows retirement starting at age 55. That change includes calculating an average of the highest three years of pay, which is usually less than the former calculation.
If Antioch adopts the change, the three-year average calculation would remain.
According to PERS data, Antioch would pay $27,556 per lateral officer in retirement costs if the switch is approved, compared with $23,054 under the current "3 percent at 55" formula.
Lateral hires cost $32,457 each in retirement under Antioch's old "3 percent at 50" formula, said Michelle Fitzer, the city's human resources director.
"We're still realizing a savings; it's just not as great," she said.
After Antioch made the "3 percent at 55" switch, Gov. Jerry Brown signed new statewide laws that further reduced benefit levels.
Under the new laws, future lateral hires will earn pension benefits 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.
Antioch is looking to fill its police vacancies with a mix of rookie and veteran officers.
Lateral hires would be able to quickly be out on the street and on duty, while an entry-level officer would have to go through expensive and time-consuming academy and field training, Fitzer said. It costs about $60,000 to train a recruit, which includes six months in the academy and 17 weeks of training. Laterals can be on the streets by themselves in four weeks, she said.
The pension issue has been discussed twice at council meetings over the past month, with most speaking in public comment it favor of increasing spending for police. Some, however, have raised concerns about Antioch incurring more long-term debt and said the city should keep its current formula.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
What: Antioch City Council meeting
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27
Where: City Council chamber, 200*St.