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Community Commentary: Reform police pay, pensions

June 20, 2011|By Colin McCarthy

I must confess at the outset of this piece that I am one of those Costa Mesa taxpayer activists. I'm one of a growing list of residents who are looking deeper at how our city spends money, peeling the layers away from the onion and not liking what we see!

I read with interest retired Officer Clay Epperson's recent community commentary ("Council should listen to interim chief's opinion," June 17) regarding the police restructuring plan and his pointed criticism of our elected officials for trying to balance our budget and prioritize our spending.

Here are some facts that Epperson neglected. He retired in 2009 at the youthful age of 50. He receives a $146,000 a year lifetime pension from taxpayers, with at least a 2% annual increase for life and a lifetime of free medical benefits. He is listed as No. 4 on the California Pension Reform watchdog list for Costa Mesa for these extravagant benefits.

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Based on conservative math, Epperson will receive nearly $5 million in just taxpayer-funded retirement. Few Americans make $5 million over their lifetime, much less in retirement. Epperson is the poster child for the pension reform movement that voters are vocally demanding. If his unsustainable retirement package doesn't shock and dismay you, I don't know what will.

But I digress. In his article, Epperson chides our city leaders for pursuing a police restructuring plan that reduces the number of sworn officers, scales back the sworn police presence in our schools, and disbands the police helicopter program.

Here are a few facts that Epperson has wrong. Costa Mesa is not dismantling the helicopter program. They have recently negotiated a far superior contract with the city of Huntington Beach for shared patrol services ("Huntington's helicopter will patrol Costa Mesa," June 9).

Why would the taxpayers pay $1,800 per hour for a helicopter when they can pay $700? Chalk one up for our City Council, who approached Huntington Beach for this solution after spending four months attempting to negotiate a cooperative agreement with Newport Beach and the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

On the police officers in our schools, Epperson is incorrect. Our council has agreed to keep the current staffing levels of sworn officers in our schools. Apparently, Epperson missed that part of the recent council meeting.

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