Police tape

Up to 35 Tucson police and fire employees could receive a $50,000 cash bonus if they decide to take the city up on an early retirement offer.

The incentive package, which was discussed by Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and the Tucson City Council during a Wednesday study session, also includes sick-leave payout for 100 percent of the employee’s accrued hours and an optional medical subsidy to pay for health insurance premiums for up to three years.

The package is designed to “streamline operations and modify the work-force composition” in the Tucson Police and Fire departments, City Manager Mike Ortega wrote in a memo.

For the Police Department, the incentive will only be available to sergeants, lieutenants, captains and assistant chiefs and will be capped at 10 sergeants and 13 commanders, the memo said.

In the Fire Department, captains, battalion chiefs, deputy chiefs and assistant chiefs are eligible for the incentive package, which will be capped at 10 captains and two chiefs.

The anticipated cost for sick-leave payout plus the $50,000 bonus would be about $65,083 per police employee and $82,498 per fire employee, according to the memo.

The medical subsidy would cost $28,800 per employee.

Based on the assumption that 12 employees would retire from each department, the total cost of the package would be about $2.5 million, Ortega wrote in the memo.

The anticipated savings from creating vacancies depends on the action taken by each department, Ortega said. The plan is for the Fire Department to use the savings to convert commissioned positions to civilian positions, according to the memo.

“It is not my intent to convert every single vacancy into a civilian position,” Ortega said during the study session. “This is consistent with what we’ve talked about for about a year and a half, to really challenge vacancies across the board and particularly in the public safety ranks, where there may be opportunity to look at civilians providing services that are currently provided by commissioned personnel.”

No savings are projected during the first year, but Ortega described the action as “an investment in future year savings.”

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said there had been previous discussion of fire safety inspectors being converted to civilian positions and asked Ortega if this was part of the incentive plan.

“The conversation is broader than just the inspectors,” Ortega said. “If we agree that the station staffing, which is of paramount importance, is basically what we want to focus on in terms of response time ... what I really challenge the department to do is we hold that harmless and everything else becomes ... part of the conversation.”

Ortega stressed there are no immediate plans to convert any commissioned fire or police department positions to civilian posts, adding that the restructuring depends entirely on how many employees take the city up on its offer.

The plan within the Police Department would be to add 12 entry-level police officers in place of the vacated positions, saving the department a projected $645,000 in the first year, Ortega wrote in the memo.

“Vacancies give us opportunities from a management perspective to look at how we do business,” he said. “What I’ve challenged both police and fire to do is to really look hard at the basis for us providing those services, whatever those services are. Because of some of the constraints we’ve had we obviously can’t afford to do it exactly the way we’ve always done it.”

After the first year, the total savings between both departments would be about $1.1 million.

The incentive will be available during a limited window, and eligible employees will be a given a 10-day sign-up period and need to declare their intent to retire by July 1.

“One of the reasons that I understated the potential savings ... is because I don’t have high confidence that we’re going to have huge participation in this,” Ortega said, adding that if not enough people sign up, he’ll have to go back to the budget to find a way to make up the savings.

The council asked Ortega to provide an update on how the reorganization of vacant positions will work after the sign-up period has ended.

Tucson Police Officers Association President Roland Gutierrez said the union has not taken a position on the incentive plan.

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at cschmidt@tucson.com or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlinschmidt

I'm a watchdog reporter covering local government, the University of Arizona and sports investigations.