News - July 23, 2008

City pays $1.48 million for police overtime

by Rory Brown

The mass exodus of police officers from the city from 2005 to 2007 took a serious toll on the understaffed police department, according to the testimony of Menlo Park cops, city officials and City Council members.

It turns out the high turnover rate also took a toll on the city's budget.

The city paid public safety employees — police officers and dispatchers — $1.48 million in overtime last year, with some officers collecting as much as $60,000 in 2007 overtime pay, according to personnel data obtained by The Almanac through a public records request.

Staffing levels are back up following an aggressive campaign to recruit more officers, but the city took some clear financial hits due to 30 officers either resigning or retiring from the Menlo Park force over the past three years. (The department has 50 officers when fully staffed.) The impacts include:

• Forty-eight public safety employees collected at least $1,000 in overtime pay.

• Dispatchers slated to make approximately $75,000 a year ended up making well more than $100,000.

• Twelve patrol officers earned more than $110,000.

New contract

Although the city paid less in police salaries due to lower-than-budgeted staffing levels, City Manager Glen Rojas said the towering overtime costs, in addition to the estimated $80,000 it takes to recruit and train each new officer, are reasons why it's in the city's best financial interests to keep the department fully staffed.

"Our objective is to keep the vacancies filled, and reduce our overtime costs," Mr. Rojas said, referring to the new three-year contract between the city and the Menlo Park Police Officers' Association that will raise salaries 25 percent over the next three years for the city's 39 line-level officers.

The salary increases were approved 5-0 by the City Council in April as an attempt to recruit and retain more officers.

The agreement is estimated to cost the city an estimated $1.72 million over the next three years — far less than what another three years of high turnover would do to the city's coffers, Mr. Rojas said.

"In our police budget, we were spending more than we have budgeted for overtime costs," he said. "We had reached a point where our officers were exhausted, and the likelihood of officers getting too tired or injured on the job was increasing. But now we're at a point where we've added officers, and we plan on retaining them."

Mayor Andy Cohen agreed with Mr. Rojas' reasoning.

"As long as we keep up the good work on the recruitment front, we'll be in good shape," Mayor Cohen said.

Pension costs

But more employees and higher salaries also means higher pension costs for the city.

Under the state's public employees' retirement system (PERS) "3 at 50" formula, public safety employees can retire as early as age 50 and receive 3 percent of their highest annual salary for each year they've worked for the city, up to 30 years. That means employees who have been with the city for 30 years will receive 90 percent of their highest annual salary each year for the rest of their lives.

The bulk of the overtime expenses aren't counted toward an employee's pension, according to Personnel Director Glen Kramer, but the city will still be facing big employee costs as salaries rise and more officers retire.

The latest officer to retire, Cmdr. Terri Molakides, will receive a pension of at least $124,441 annually for the rest of her life, according to the city's salary data.

Councilman John Boyle said the city has to balance the need to retain more officers with growing long-term employee costs.

"A real issue we need to think about is the long-term costs, and how much we're paying our retired police officers compared to how much we're paying the active officers," Mr. Boyle said. He noted that cities should address the issue regionally rather than competing for a limited pool of officers by continually raising salaries.

"Right now, we're caught up, but if other cities play the same game and raise their salaries, a couple of years from now we'll be playing catch-up again," he said. "So the question is: How do we reign this in to make it less about competing with each other for officers?"


Posted by Disgusted, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jul 22, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Another legacy of former city manager David Boesch and his hiree, police chief Boyd. Boesch couldn't seem to figure out the connection between a hyper-gear resignation rate and rock-bottom morale, which the police chief was largely responsibility for. Now, both these guys are gone and the city continues to pay. We're probably paying in more ways than financially, given the low number of experienced cops on the force.

Posted by platinum parachute, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 22, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Area city managers, police chiefs, politicians, just like school and zoo superintendants, recycle and reuse, they seem to regenerate with commensurate pay upgrades with the close knit head hunters pushing their "experience" on councils/supervisors/voters.
They wouldn't last one month in the private sector where performance standards demand a produce or perish paradigm.
BTW, Boesch will be running the entire county soon. Expect massive tax increases to pay the bloated administration under the guise of "parity with the private sector".

Posted by Cantankerous Curmudgeon, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 23, 2008 at 5:35 pm

I saw those numbers. Where do they keep the application forms? I'm getting my tough-guy resume in shape. I'm not too crazy about the uniforms, but for that kind of money, I'll wear anything. I have lots of experience with law enforcement, especially behind the wheel. They didn't say the starting salary but how bad could it be?

Posted by Justme, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 23, 2008 at 9:32 pm

For petes sake.. how many police does a city of Menlo Park need?


Posted by Bella Azzurro, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 24, 2008 at 10:22 am

If you want to know how Menlo Park officers spend their time, check out the daily police log of written reports:
Web Link

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 24, 2008 at 4:37 pm

The overtime paid out occurred in 2007(NOT 2006 or 2005)...long after ANY previous administrators were there. Clearly, people are still leaving to other agencies. Just taking on the dispatch services for the city of San Carlos was a disaster! Dispatchers leaving and no one to fill the vacancies. That was a poor move on Chief Goittia. Quit looking to the past to blame everything on and look at what is going on in the here and now! Overtime will always be a part of doing business. Clearly there are significant problems in the current administration to allow this reckless spending.

To Just me: have you been east of 101 lately? Not good. Just 6 cops over there is not enough. You do not know what you are talking about!

Posted by again..., a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 24, 2008 at 5:59 pm

Would you rather pay overtime or more employees and pensions. Overtime is cheaper than hiring. Posters will complain either way...

Posted by oh no!, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 24, 2008 at 6:02 pm

I was at the Starbucks on Marsh Road a few months ago around 8:30am , and there were 5, count 'em, 5 Menlo Park Policemen there taking a the same time! They may not be east of the 101, but I live in West Menlo, and I rarely see a patrol car, no matter the time of day or night. I do however see lots of people going at least 40 on Santa Cruz Avenue, and that makes me mad!

Posted by again.., a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 24, 2008 at 6:03 pm

Hmmm...just read the article...that is a LOT of money... I retract my last statement :-)
Has to be a happy medium.

Posted by unreal, a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Jul 24, 2008 at 10:41 pm

To Oh No....So what how many you don't know whether it was a overlapping shift or what!! Quit happy you were in a place that was not gonna get robbed! Relax...cops need a break too...that is why they have portable radios and pagers...give em a break...they deserve just that...walk a mile in their shoes...I have.I am retired law enforcement...I still see the horrors of of every thing I saw every time I close my eyes....appreciate what they do every is not what they do every is what they might have to do... think about that...

Posted by observing, a resident of another community
on Jul 25, 2008 at 8:57 am

The reason why so many left was for a variety of reasons. Some wanted to work for bigger agencies, others simply retired. The main reason was a lack of parity in salary. The City had fallen way below the industry average as far as salary and benefits. Menlo Park was paid even less the the lowest paid East Palo Alto PD. That is the plain and simple Now that the City has given them a decent raise and a guarentee of parity for the future, things will stabilize as they always do. This is very typical.

Posted by another observer, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 25, 2008 at 9:15 am

Most people don't change jobs just for the money. There were terrible morale problems that I hope are fixed now, and these don't relate to money.
Menlo Park can't get into a bidding war with other jurisdictions, and should not cave on lots of contractual adders that seemingly cost little but add up to a lot over time, especially if they are added to the retirement base. Things are getting out of hand relative to the private sector where it's nearly impossible to get such rich retirement and to be able to double dip at a young age. This must be addressed.

Posted by Edna LesToil, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 25, 2008 at 10:46 am

It's comforting to know that when I reach retirement age, long after Social Security has been exhausted and geriatric bands of desperate homeless people roam the streets, all of us who toiled in the private sector will be able to beg for scraps from retired public servants.

I don't begrudge the cops a decent retirement. I just wish I was cut out for that line of work so I could enjoy a relaxing old age, too.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 26, 2008 at 1:11 pm

The rape of the taxpayer continues apace, aided by weak and self-interested politicians.

Posted by the law won, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 26, 2008 at 9:52 pm

"The City had fallen way below the industry average as far as salary and benefits. Menlo Park was paid even less the the lowest paid East Palo Alto PD"

I would expect that EPA police would earn higher salaries than our officers. They face real danger in EPA!

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jul 26, 2008 at 10:40 pm

You people sit in your McMansions and bellow on and on about free markets and are the very same people who cower in the corner in times of need. You are vulnerable people Menlo Parkians...lily white with little real world experience, soft around the edges and loaded with money.

Without the police, you are what they call "easy prey"...

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