Sten Proposes Police/Fire Disability Changes

Earlier today, City Commissioner Erik Sten released a report (PDF) with "objective information on this complex system—as well as what I hope are informed judgments on recommended changes" to the city's police and fire disability and pension system. Recently, the system has come under fire. (City Commish Randy Leonard discusses it on BlueOregon here and here.)

Sten also hopes to point the way toward submitting city charter amendments to the voters for this November's ballot (which are due by August 17.)

Here's some key excerpts from the observations and the recommendations, followed by Erik Sten's suggested city charter amendments...

Key excerpts from the observations:

• "With these system-wide caveats in mind, there appears to be no doubt that the disability rate for Portland police officers and firefighters measurably exceeds the experience of other Oregon cities."

• "It would appear that the 1989 reform worked, but that over the past decade, new problems have arisen. Notably, the average duration of a disability claim has increased significantly. Budget cuts to Police and Fire likely explain a lot of the problem, as the bureaus lost positions to which they could relocate an injured or otherwise disabled police officer or fire fighter."

• "Of the total of 212 disability cases, 162 represent members on long term disability. 77 of these are members still covered under the old plan. The vast majority of these members, according to
FPDR staff, have already accrued the maximum 30 years of service. As such, any move to shift them off of disability would mean that they would transition into the retirement system. Under such a scenario, the cost to taxpayers would actually increase."

• "Outside income [that may offset the disability benefit] is limited to wages, and does not include other forms of income like investment income or certain proceeds from ownership in a corporation."

Key excerpts from the analysis:

• "The most appropriate and risk-free approach to returning injured fire fighters and police officers to work would focus on establishing a stronger method for placing these employees in existing city jobs for which they are qualified. Creating new positions, or reclassifying existing positions, may pose legal obstacles and/or exposure. The legal costs associated with ADA-related lawsuits, because they inherently involve medical opinions, can be significant. Human Resources and the City Attorney’s office indicate that the preferred approach is probably a City Charter amendment focused on requiring the city to give preference to disabled FPDR members if they are qualified to fill an existing city position."

• "I think we should establish a clear and enforced standard that states that if a member is qualified to accept a position with the city, and refuses, their disability payments should be stopped."

• "Certainly, I think that we should promote a more expansive definition of outside income, so that it includes not just wages, but all sources of income. If a member is capable of making a good living, in whatever form, I do not think they need to be on disability."

And here are Sten's proposed amendments to the city charter:

• Eliminate the 25% floor for disability benefits, so that outside income has the potential to reduce disability payments to zero.

• Establish a dollar for dollar reduction in the disability benefit for all forms of outside income.

• Compel the city to give priority to placing disabled FPDR members in existing city positions for which they are qualified.

• Clarify and strengthen language stating that a member who refuses to accept a return to work position with the City will no longer receive disability benefits.

• Establish that a member facing possible discipline is ineligible to go out on disability while the outcome of the disciplinary process is pending.


  • Dave Lister (unverified)

    How about accrued sick time being used prior to the start of disability payments? Upon retirement, safety officers that have been out on lengty disability get a one time payout of accrued sick time which, according to a source in the office of managment and finance, can amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

open discussion

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