A nearly $6 raise proposed for Costa Mesa's police reserve officers quickly turned into a political debate Tuesday night when the public and council members sparred over how the city has cut down the police department in the last two years.
The raise — which would take reserve officers pay from $27.09 to $33 an hour — would bring reserve officer pay to the same level as Costa Mesa Animal Control officers and also make them among the highest paid in the county, officials said.
Reserve officers undergo the same training as full-time officers but work fewer hours, don't receive benefits and are sometimes fresh out of academy or are retired and coming back part-time. City officials said the pay raise could help with recruiting.
Resident Tamar Goldmann said she was surprised that reserve officers get so little and suggested they were worth more than that.
While subsequent speakers agreed with the sentiment, they also took the opportunity to criticize the downsizing of police department staff since 2010. Residents said if officers are going to put their lives on the line for residents, they are also worth the pension that goes with it.
Several speakers suggested the city was trying to get police officers on the cheap.
Councilman Gary Monahan fumed as the discussion veered away from giving raises and into a philosophy of police staffing, a result of both public comments and council member statements earlier in the meeting about pensions.
It's "a load of crap," Monahan sneered into his microphone. "We're trying to add more reserve officers to add more to the street and cut down a little bit on overtime… Some of you say we're trying to dismantle [the department] by adding more reserves. Contradictory if you ask me."
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer put it bluntly: "The council will not hire new officers on the pension pay they have now."
"I will not hire somebody on a pension plan that is unsustainable," he said.
The city has been in negotiations with the police and fire department associations over creating a second, lower pension tier for new hires, but no agreement has been reached.
"Well, I appreciate the efforts to go out and recruit more officers and we definitely have some challenges, and to be competitive and raise the rates is something we probably should've done a long time ago," Councilwoman Wendy Leece said. "We should not be skimping on anything that deals with keeping our residents safe, especially these days."
The City Council unanimously approved the raises.