OPA Contribution Plan To Address Police Recruitment, Retention

OPA Contribution Plan To Address Police Recruitment, Retention
Photo by Bethany Hooper

OCEAN PINES – An effort to implement a new contribution plan for the Ocean Pines Police Department led to a larger discussion last week about the association’s lack of participation in the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System (LEOPS).

Last Saturday, the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve a defined pension and equivalent contribution plan for the Ocean Pines Police Department. General Manager John Viola said the plan is expected to help with recruitment and retention efforts.

“This will make us competitive with every other municipality and every other police department in the area,” he said. “The cost of this would probably increase the budget by $175,000 a year.”

As proposed, the plan will amend the police department’s current 401(k) plan. Association President Doug Parks said the revision would include a 5% employee contribution, a 5% employer match and a 15% employer discretionary contribution, which would be provided at the end of each fiscal year.

“Ocean Pines would like to be more competitive with other agencies who offer pension plans to their departments,” he said. “The recommendation from the general manager is to amend the current 401(k) plan.”

Director Frank Daly questioned how the contribution plan compared to those of other police departments.

“How does this proposed plan exactly compare to what’s called LEOPS?” he asked. “And how does it compare with Ocean City, which I understand has a better pension than LEOPS, because that’s going to be our competitor.”

Viola said the proposed plan was similar to the LEOPS program.

“This basically puts us right there,” he said.

Director Colette Horn questioned how the program would be funded. She asked if the annual cost of $175,000 was included in the coming year’s budget.

“This was not part of the budget process because we didn’t know what we could or couldn’t do …,” Viola replied. “What I would ask for is to transfer from our realized retained earnings of approximately $175,000 to cover this in the budget year starting May 1.”

Director Steve Jacobs noted the association was not a municipality and couldn’t participate in the LEOPS program. He questioned if there were other large homeowners associations in Maryland wanting to join LEOPS.

“There are very few homeowners associations of our size that provide police coverage …,” he said. “If it’s a small number it might be possible to get a change in statute to recognize that some homeowners associations acting like a municipality, as is in this case, should be allowed to enter LEOPS.”

Viola said the association has reached out to its state representatives. Director Rick Farr said he supported seeking a change in state statute, as well as a change to the association’s current 401(k) plan.

“This type of plan is very good, very attractive for new staff getting on board,” he said.

Parks noted that recruitment and retention continued to be an issue for the police department, as there were currently eight unfilled positions. He said officials were hoping the proposed contribution plan would help.

“Through John and his efforts, we decided it’s in our best interest to try and stimulate participation and get the police force we need,” he said.

Daly made a motion to amend Viola’s request by adding the association’s realized retained earnings as the funding source for the contribution plan. Director Colette Horn said retained earnings should be used for public safety initiatives.

“This is exactly the reason I was not happy with the way the budget discussion went last month,” she said. “The priority we need to have is public safety. This is a $20-per-property-owner cost, which I’m in support of. This is much more important than discussions of using our retained earnings to lower fees, lower assessments. We need to prioritize public safety when it comes to using retained earnings.”

A motion to amend the general manager’s recommendation, as well as a motion to approve the request, passed unanimously.

Viola also presented the board last week with an update on the police department’s hiring efforts. He said the agency was aggressively looking to fill open positions.

“The good news is we’ve received many resumes or applications,” he said. “We have also put in a new process for testing. There’s a written test and we’re working with the physical so that when they go to the academy they would be more prepared. What I’m being told is we have more success when we test. So apparently we are putting that in. We haven’t done it in the past.”

He also updated the association regarding an ongoing investigation within the Ocean Pines Police Department. In January, Ocean Pines Police Chief Leo Ehrisman was placed on administrative leave after officials learned a reported burglary had occurred in a storage shed used by the agency.

“I know people have been reaching out to several of us asking,” he said. “It is an ongoing investigation. There’s nothing new to report since the last time.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

Alternative Text

Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.