On 4-3 vote, Santa Rosa OKs police pension changes

A sharply divided Santa Rosa City Council approved a new two-year police union contract on Tuesday characterized by some as an important step toward pension overhaul and by others as far from the restructuring needed to save the city from financial peril.

The council voted 4-3 in favor of the contract, which establishes lower pension benefits for new officers, gets current ones to pay more toward their pension, and gives them raises to cover most of those costs.

The majority of council members praised the officers for stepping forward and welcomed the contract changes, but also acknowledged that some of their fellow council members and members of the public might be impatient for more sweeping changes.

"I know it's not big enough, it's not fast enough, it's not good enough," said Councilman Jake Ours. "But it's what we can do, and I think we have to be realistic about this."

But Councilman Gary Wysocky blasted the savings as "minuscule" compared to the more than $100 million in unfunded pension costs the city faces.

"I can appreciate they came in good faith, but they don't come anywhere close to solving our financial problems," Wysocky said of the changes. "That's just a fact. I wish it were different."

He said the "structure" in place in the city at the moment "leads right towards Stockton and Vallejo, a reference to one city on the verge of bankruptcy and another that just emerged from it.

Voting in favor were Ours, Mayor Ernesto Olivares, Vice Mayor John Sawyer and Scott Bartley. Opposed were Wysocky, Marsha Vas Dupre and Susan Gorin.

The city announced nearly two weeks ago that it had struck pension overhaul deals with its police and fire unions. Discussion of an amendment to the fire contract was postponed pending additional financial analysis.

That left the council to consider just the new contract for the city's 141 police officers.

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