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HOLLYWOOD — Four police officers have filed a lawsuit against the city saying they have been unfairly barred from entering Hollywood’s deferred retirement option plan.
Hollywood eliminated its DROP program last year after voters approved sweeping changes to the city’s employee pension plans to help save an estimated $8.5 million.
Under the DROP, longtime employees can continue working and collecting a salary for a set number of years while “banking” retirement benefits they can take in a lump sum when they leave. Before Hollywood ended the program, police and firefighters were permitted to stay in the DROP for up to eight years.
Hollywood officials were served with the lawsuit Wednesday and reviewing it, city spokeswoman Raelin Storey said.
“We plan to vigorously defend the city,” Storey said. “We do not believe that any of the reforms of the pension plans were illegal. Voters approved all of the pension reforms, including the elimination of the DROP program.”
The lawsuit, filed on Nov. 27 in Broward Circuit Court, demands that Lyle Bien, Norris Redding, Derrick Austin and Mark Ruggles be allowed to enter the city’s DROP plan even though they did not apply to do so by the city-imposed deadline of Sept. 30, 2011.
The officers had the option of entering the DROP before the deadline, but wanted to wait until they had put in 22 years of service to get the highest pension payment possible, said their attorney, William Scherer III.
Storey noted that voters approved the pension reforms on Sept. 13, 2011 — giving the officers a two-week window in which to enter the DROP.
Jeff Marano, Hollywood’s police union president, contends all four officers should have been “grandfathered in” because they were over 50 and eligible to retire as of Sept. 30, 2011.
“State law says if you are retired or eligible to retire, they can’t change the plan on you,” Marano said.
The city’s police pension board — a group comprised of five Hollywood officers, one retired Hollywood officer and one finance guru — says the officers in question qualify for the DROP.
Hollywood officials disagree.
“The city is taking one position and the pension board is taking another, and my clients are stuck in the middle,” Scherer said.
The Shawano County Board of Supervisors approved a new contract Wednesday with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the union for county law enforcement.
The contract, good through 2014, provides a 8 percent pay increase by the end of the contract. It will also require the deputies to pay 6 percent into the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS), which is already being required of county employees who are not part of a union.
The contract requires the county to provide a wage increase of 2 percent for all deputies retroactive to Jan. 1, plus 2 percent wage increases on Jan. 1, 2013, and Jan. 1, 2014, as well as 1 percent hikes in July of both years.
The contract with the union was set to expire in 2011, but it was extended for a year while the county tried to clear up questions about Act 10, which eliminated the collective bargaining rights of most public service unions in Wisconsin except for law enforcement.
Under the new deal, deputies will be required to pay 2 percent of their gross earnings into WRS immediately. That increases to 4 percent at the beginning of 2013 and 6 percent in 2014.
The new contract will increase the probationary period for new hires from 12 months to 18. It will also add two designated shifts — 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 4 a.m., the latter being exclusively for K-9 officers — and eliminate the 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift.
The contract applies to deputies, detectives and sergeants. Lieutenants and other higher management, along with dispatch and clerical staff, are not part of the union.
The contract received unanimous support from the Finance and Administrative committees.
“This is the first time that the union … and the county have come together and come up with a contract that is good for everybody,” said Supervisor Gene Hoppe, who chairs the Administrative Committee. “Now, the employees are going to pay in a percentage to WRS, and this is going to mean a lot to the county.”
It was that provision that convinced Supervisor Deb Noffke, who is also on the Administrative Committee and served on the county’s collective bargaining team, to vote in favor of the retroactive pay increase.
“This should have been settled a year ago,” she said. “Getting the Wisconsin Retirement System contribution is worth something.”
Administrative Coordinator Tom Madsen explained that, if the county had not agreed to the retroactive raise but required deputies to pay into WRS, the matter would have gone to arbitration, at an estimated county cost of $5,000 per month, and the county would likely have lost.
“I have been involved with negotiations with this county on both sides of the table, and I don’t remember in my history ever not putting retro pay into a contract,” Madsen said. “It’s past practice.”