The Greek part of Oakland

by Russ Roberts on July 14, 2010

in Politics

I noted the other day that the average (the average!) cost to the city of Oakland of employing a police officer is $188,000 and that the city was negotiating for concessions to avoid layoffs. Today comes the news that they couldn’t agree–80 Oakland police officers have been laid off.

With the story comes a few more  facts:

Oakland laid off 80 police officers Tuesday after negotiations between city officials and union leaders failed on one simple matter: job security.

The police union demanded that the city guarantee that its officers would not be laid off for three years in exchange for giving up some pension benefits that would have eased the city’s budget problems.

City leaders, however, said it would have been irresponsible of them to agree to protect police jobs for more than one year because the city’s budget problems are likely to worsen.

Basically the city wanted officers to contribute 9% of their salary to their pension. They currently contribute zero. How generous are those pensions?

They are allowed to retire at age 50 and collect 3 percent of their salary for every year of service.

The way I understand that is that if you start on the police force at 25 and work for 25 years, you get 75% of your salary. Don’t know if it’s your last year’s salary or some kind of average. Can you work till 60 and get 105% of your salary? Either way, does that strike you as a pretty good deal? It depends on the salary. How much of that $188,000 figure is salary and how much is pension and other benefits?

It’s hard to be a police officer. But is it possible that this pension (measured by the amount of money and the age of retirement) is a tad more generous than it needs to be to staff the police force with competent people? Does the Oakland police department have any trouble recruiting new officers? Or is there a long line of applicants?

The story closes with a way to avoid the layoffs:

The layoffs leave the department with 695 officers. Unless the city and union come to a new agreement, the only hope for restoring the city’s police force lies with voters.

Brunner and union officials talked about working hand-in-hand to convince voters to approve two ballot measures, neither of which has yet been written. The measures – one of which would ask for a parcel tax of about $360 per home to raise an estimated $50 million – could allow the city to rehire the laid-off officers.

A parcel tax would require a two-thirds majority of voters, a threshold that many believe would require the unanimous support of the council and a lack of organized opposition.

Organized opposition would make it hard to get the tax passed? I guess so. I read that to mean that if people get the facts, they’re not very likely to vote for the tax. Would you want to pay $360 to keep the compensation package of the average police officer at $188,000 and get those extra 80 cops? How many Oakland residents earn salary and benefits equal to $188,000 and get to retire at 50 with a generous pension?

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