In six to eight months, Nevada City could have a new police chief, as outlined in a process approved by the town’s council Wednesday in an effort to comply with the state’s employee pension program.
That process could see Chief Jim Wickham, who is now being referred to as the interim police chief, replaced a full year sooner than had been envisioned and at a time when the city’s finances were in a better position to fund a full-time leader of the department.
During the economic downturn, Nevada City lost $487,000 in tax revenues from 2008-09 levels — forcing the city to staff some of its most prominent positions with part-timers, including the city’s manager, attorney, engineer and its police chief, on top of furloughs, deferred maintenance and other cost-saving measures. Those part-time administrators are also retirees, who supplement their city incomes with their pensions and save the city from not paying pensions for those positions.
To get the city’s finances in order, the city pitched — and voters approved — a 3/8-cent sales tax increase in November that took effect at the beginning of April. The sales tax increase is estimated to bring in nearly $400,000 annually to the city — funds the city told voters would help prop up city services and fund a full-time police chief, among other positions.
However, the first of those revenues won’t come in until the end of July.
Concurrently, the city was writing up a one-year contract renewal with Wickham, who replaced former Chief Lou Trovato in March 2012. When the city ran that contract by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the agency objected, telling the city it needed to have an active recruitment of a more permanent police chief, Brennan said.
At its Wednesday meeting, the council approved a revised an interim contract with Wickham that included a $6,600 pay raise (up from $48,000 annually) and also told city staff to begin the process to recruit a new chief who would work approximately 140 hours more than Wickham’s current position allows for to avoid pension payments by the city.
By surpassing Wickham’s 960 annual hours limit, the replacement chief position will require the city to pay into CalPERS, at around 38 percent, Brennan noted. Coupled with the cost of more hours worked, the city estimated the next police chief position will add a $30,000 dent to the Nevada City Police Department budget.
Wickham is not interested in applying for any position that could jeopardize his current Mill Valley Police Department pension, he told The Union last week.
“What we are really trying to do is work within the requirements of (CalPERS) to have a part time police chief but not pay too much more money than we are now,” said Councilwoman Sally Harris.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.