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Move Afoot To Cut Benefit Costs For Public Safety Employees

A San Diego City Council committee today sought a change to the city's code, so that police, firefighters and lifeguards won't have to pay for disability retirement benefits.

In May, the San Diego City Employees' Retirement System voted to increase contribution rates for members, so that the city and employees would contribute a "substantially equal" amount.

In the process, public safety employees were required to pay part of their death and disability benefits, which were previously covered in full.


San Diego police Chief William Lansdowne told the Rules, Open Government and Intergovernmental Relations Committee that no other city in California he knows of makes its police officers and firefighters pay for disability benefits.

The change, police officials testified, could cause officers to leave for other departments or seek retirement.

"They will see this very clearly as a lack of support for them internally and it will have very detrimental effects on the well-being of the San Diego Police Department," the chief said.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Javier Mainar said the change was "poor public policy," arguing it may lead firefighters and police to hesitate when in harm's way.

"It sends a very chilling message to our public safety workers, who we ask to put their lives in harms way to do the most they can to protect our community when its at risk," Mainar said.


The Rules, Open Government and Intergovernmental Relations Committee voted 3-2 to direct City Attorney Jan Goldsmith's office to draft a change to the municipal code so that the city can pick up 100 percent of the cost of public safety disability retirement benefits.

Covering the full amount of public safety disability retirement benefits would cost taxpayers about $2.6 million annually.

Councilwoman Donna Frye and Councilman Kevin Faulconer were opposed.

They preferred the issue be discussed behind closed doors before it went to the full City Council.

Both Frye and Faulconer expressed concern that the committee's decision could impact existing pension litigation.

Goldsmith has sued SDCERS in an effort to require its members to contribute more into the pension plan to make up for investment and other losses. He maintains that the city and employees are legally "equal partners" in funding San Diego's pension plan.