Monrovia police very publicly join Sierra Madre and Arcadia in asking for better pay.
A compensation dispute between the Monrovia Police Officers Association and the City Council escalated last week after city manager Scott Ochoa stated in a city council meeting that public safety came second to fiscal responsibility and the MPOA began a series of robo-calls to city residents Friday. The message explained the POA’s concerns and encouraged citizens to contact the City Council and ask them to uphold their promise to make public safety a priority.
“If you spend yourself into bankruptcy you won’t be able to provide public safety on an ongoing basis,” said Ochoa. “That is a hard fact that the POA has hated to hear but it is a hard fact that is reality.”
Since June 2007, after the previous Memorandum of Understanding expired, the MPOA has asked Monrovia to raise their pay and benefits because the MPOA said they have the lowest compensation in the 13 agreed-upon cities that are used as a comparison.
In late December a new POA board was seated and negotiations restarted. In January the city offered the MPOA a 16.5 percent raise—a combination of salary and benefit increases—over three and a half years.
“The MPOA began and ended with a contract demand of a 23.5 percent increase in compensation over three and one-half years,” said Ochoa.
“We provide above average service to the city and they want us to do it for below average pay,” said MPOA board member and police detective Robert Manuel. “All we’re asking is to be average.”
The City told a different story in response to the POA complaints.
“That is all a bit of a slight of hand because it does not take into account the enormous cost of the Public Employee Retirement System benefit that is offered and does not recognize that the PERS benefit costs the city actual dollars every month,” said Ochoa.
Three factors that the POA and Monrovia use when computing compensation are members’ salary, medical benefit and Police Officer Standard & Training pay. The City has factored in the PERS benefit for the last 20 years and periodically the POA has asked for that not to be included in the equation, according to Ochoa.
“When you compute the value of these four factors along with the other smaller items listed in the survey, the Monrovia Officers and Sergeants are indeed five percent above the survey average,” said Ochoa. “Also, Monrovia’s salaries are well above the survey average. However, because of the high cost of the PERS pension, the medical and POST amounts are less than in some other cities.”
While Ochoa was unsure of how many of the 13 comparison cities factor in PERS, the MPOA said that none of those cities factor in PERS since they asked each city’s POA in the last 90 days.
“We’re coming up with a very straightforward way of comparing the entire compensation package and they’re refusing to acknowledge that,” said Manuel. “It’s pretty convoluted.”
Ochoa said that not factoring in PERS is not something that the City considers up for negotiation.
“For every dollar paid in salary – regardless of whether it is regular time or bonus pay (over-time is excluded) – the City also pays 42 cents to PERS,” said Ochoa.
The PERS formula is referred to as “three percent at 50” and means a Monrovia police officer can retire at age 50 and receive as much as 90 percent of his or her single-highest year’s salary, based on years of service, until they are deceased.
Ochoa used the example of a 51-year-old officer retiring after 28 years of service, which would calculate as three percent multiplied by 28 to equal 84 percent of the officer’s single-highest year’s salary.
Another point of debate is POA resources and staff, though Manuel said the City has been sensitive and supportive of the fight against recent violence.
“With our limited manpower we are working really strenuous hours trying to combat this and we’re down 12 officers, about a third of our patrol force, and it’s just stretching the resources,” said Manuel.
Monrovia has always maintained a full complement of officers, according to Ochoa, and other cities have been asked to help patrol Monrovia streets just as some cities may aid others during a large fire.
“The actual number of positions they’re down is four positions,” said Ochoa. “They are going back to a cops grant from the 1990s and grant positions were cut and they’re still counting that [and] they’re counting people who may retire or will retire in six to 18 months but they’re still here now and still cashing a check. We have 52 budgeted positions and 48 sworn police officers on the payroll.”
While the Arcadia POA reached an agreement with Arcadia and a raise for Sierra Madre police is dependent on the passing of Measure U, the next step in the fate of the MPOA’s compensation is a March 18th City Council meeting that will include a city presentation and agenda items related to the negotiations.