Nevada City Police Chief Jim Wickham’s days are numbered.
The part-time retiree who came on board in March 2012 has been told by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System to vacate his position by early October or retroactively pay six months worth of benefits to the tune of about $100,000, said Nevada City Manager David Brennan.
If Wickham remained past the Oct. 2 deadline, the city would also have to retroactively pay about $50,000, Brennan said.
“It’s unfortunate because it does a disservice to taxpayers,” Brennan said of the pension program’s crackdown, which stifles the city’s money-saving tactic of staffing retirees in part-time positions.
As government agencies’ tax revenues plummeted from the 2008 economic downturn, Nevada City staffed its police chief, city manager, engineer and attorney slots with retired public workers, annuitants working in part-time capacities, thus avoiding paying benefits, such as pensions. Brennan said the tactic saves the city approximately $200,000 a year.
But with the backing of the state legislature, CalPERS began prohibiting the practice, affecting agencies statewide, Brennan said.
“It’s unfortunate because there are hundreds of situations like ours in the state. The biggest ones are in rural communities that are having the most difficult situations financially,” Brennan said. “Having part-time annuitants saves those communities a lot of money.”
Brennan, also a part-time annuitant, has been able to continue to operate as a consultant, as are the city engineer and attorney.
However, CalPERS also prohibits staffing elected officials’ appointments, such as police chiefs, with consultants. In response, the city classified Wickham as an interim chief, which CalPERS only allows for a one-year term.
“We knew it was coming. We tried to forestall it,” Brennan said. “We will have to get an interim chief, because we have an active recruitment going on right now.”
In November 2012, Nevada City voters unanimously approved a temporary sales tax increase to stabilize the city’s budget. With the added funds, Nevada City had a plan to replace Wickham in six months — a plan CalPERS was not interested in, Brennan said.
“They were not very sensitive to our situation and the way we planned to bring in a full-time police chief,” said Brennan.
Beyond the added step of finding an interim police chief, Brennan expects the full-time chief recruitment will be completed by the end of November.
Wickham said his last day will be in two weeks.
“After 18 months, I feel like I’ve made some big changes for the community,” Wickham said. “The majority of the community and the council have appreciated what I’ve done.”
Wickham expects to return to Mill Valley and enjoy more time with his family.
“I’m going back to babysitting my granddaughter,” Wickham joked. “The positive side of all this is getting to see my family, my kids more.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.