City Council mulls retirement incentive package for safety officers

Tucson City Council further discussed an early retirement incentive program for public safety officers, which could save the city more than $2.4 million next fiscal year.

The city anticipates about 12 officers from both the Tucson Police and Tucson Fire departments will take advantage of the retirement package.

The retirement incentive will offer a full payout of the officer’s sick leave, a one-time $50,000 cash payment and a three-year Medical benefit supplement. The temporary insurance package will pay about $28,800 annually, but the retiree will not receive government health coverage after the three-year mark.

City Manager Michael Ortega began by saying he wanted some direction from Mayor & Council before finalizing the retirement incentive offer. He further said the language regarding commissioned officer positions would be converted to civilian positions was misleading, and will be corrected when the proposal is complete.

Council Member Karin Uhlich, a Democrat representing Ward 3, confirmed the point of this initiative was to allow Tucson’s safety departments the opportunity to shape its supervising staff according to the community demand. For example, if a fire inspector is more valuable at a particular station, that change can be made because of the potential vacancy left by a retired officer, Uhlich said.

That is absolutely correct, Ortega said. “This gives us the best ability to really look at, and to really say, every vacancy is an opportunity. So how we approach that, and filling those positions is the key to that conversation.”

In order to minimize costs, the benefit package will be offered during a 45-day window, and local officers must declare their intent to retire by July 1, according to city documents. And officers will be granted a weeklong grace period if they change their minds.

For Tucson firefighters, this retirement incentive will only be offered to the rank of captain, or battalion, deputy and assistant chief. The amount of firefighters who can accept this offer is limited to 10 captains and two chief officers.

Similarly, the city’s offer will only be extended to officers who hold the rank of police sergeant, lieutenant, captain and assistant chief.  And the amount of peace officers allowed to take up the proposal is capped at 10 sergeants and 13 commanders.

Creating vacancies in the police department’s upper management could potentially place more law officers in the field, said Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. And based on precinct needs, the opportunity for promoting police officers also opens up, Rothschild said.

Ortega said this initiative is simply speeding up the natural process of attrition for ranking officers while keeping in mind the importance of public safety.

“Vacancies give us an opportunity, from a management perspective, to look at how we do business,” Ortega said.

“What I’ve challenged both police and fire to do is really look hard at the basis for us providing services,” he said. “Whatever those services are, and because of some of the constraints that we’ve had, we obviously can’t afford to do exactly what we’ve always done.”

Council Member Shirley C. Scott, a Democrat of Ward 4, asked the language regarding replacing sanctioned officers be changed in writing before the council approves the final draft of the initiative.

What if the number of ranking public safety officers willing to retire exceeded the city’s estimates, asked Steve Kozachik, council member and Democrat of Ward 6?

That would be troubling, said Ortega. The burden of replacing the maximum amount of ranking officers could prove difficult, but he’s confident with the current estimates. He said although facing that challenge wouldn’t be easy, the financial and reframing flexibility could be an asset.

“That’s a discussion, on a macro scale, that would be a nice problem to have,” he said.


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