A split Lady Lake Commission has turned down a new police contract over complaints that the pension benefits are too generous.
Commissioners met in two closed-door meetings prior to Monday night’s meeting with Mayor Ruth Kussard believing they had ironed out a unified agreement and were ready to move forward – unanimously.
However, the commissioners’ unified front crumbled when the mayor called for a vote on the contract that had been negotiated with the Florida Police Benevolent Association for the period of Oct. 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2022.
Commission Tony Holden proposed moving ahead with the plan to offer the town’s police officers a 2 percent across the board wage increase and allow them to be eligible for an additional merit increase of up to 2 percent. Under the plan, a police officer would see a pay range between $43,265 and $64,889; a police corporal would see a pay range between $48,409 and $72,618; and a police sergeant would be paid in a range between $56,159 and $84,240. The town may elect to pay a sign-up bonus to a new officer who has prior law enforcement experience.
However, Holden expressed concern that the pension benefits negotiated with the PBA are too generous.
The normal retirement age would be 55 with eight years of credited service or 20 years of credited service regardless of age. The new contract would reduce the years of credited service from 10 to eight years. The new contract would also increase the pension multiplier from 3.3 percent to 3.5 percent. The current police officer’s contribution to the pension plan cannot exceed 5 percent.
Holden made a motion to deny the pension portion of the contract and was joined in the vote to deny it by Commissioners Paul Hannan and Dan Vincent.
That infuriated Mayor Kussard.
“I thought we had come to an agreement,” she said.
Town Manager William Lawrence, who has a background in law enforcement, tried to explain that the pension benefits have given the town an advantage when it comes to recruiting police officers, particularly more mature officers looking for a “second career” in law enforcement.
“It makes it more attractive for them to stay. It’s a good recruitment tool,” Lawrence said.
Now the town will have to go back to the negotiating table with the PBA.
During the contract debate Monday night, the commission chambers happened to be filled with police officers who were there to support fellow Officer Jacob Clark who was being honored for saving a man’s life at a town square. Clark has been with the Lady Lake Police Department for about two and a half years.