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.
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.
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?"