With possibility of pope and DNC coming to town, Philly may extend DROP pay for key cops

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter may give several retiring police officers the option of remaining on the force next year by extending their DROP payments.

In an interview, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the city is looking for ways to retain “institutional knowledge” as it prepares to host a series of high-profile public events, including The World Meeting of Families, an international conference expected to draw thousands of Catholics and a visit from Pope Francis.

Extending the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan payments, he said, is one of the solutions on the table.

“The goal is to maintain sufficient expertise including the kind of institutional knowledge that comes with experience,” said McDonald.

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DROP gives city workers the chance to start receiving pension payments after picking a retirement date four years in the future.

The money is then put into a fund during that period and paid out in a lump sum when the employee retires.

Under city code, Nutter can extend DROP for up to a year beyond the four-year limit if he determines there’s an “extraordinary circumstance” that “threatens public health, safety and welfare.”

The rare move does not necessarily require approval from City Council, and it can be offered to individual officers after a mayoral advisory board gives the green light.

McDonald said extensions would be offered to officers set to retire between January and October of 2015 and, possibly, beyond.

He would not say if extensions would be offered to other city employees enrolled in DROP.

A police department representative declined comment.

Ellen Kaplan, who heads the government watchdog group The Committee of Seventy, said the city shouldn’t need to extend DROP payments because succession plans should already be in place.

“The idea was that any city department would know five years out who was going to be leaving …. It gave them a chance to plan for transferring their responsibilities to other people, or even reshaping the responsibilities if it would make the operations of the department more effective,” said Kaplan.

Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass said the idea may bring controversy, but she supports it nonetheless.

“We need to look at each individual case and, in this particular situation, we’re trying to attract visitors to our city who we hope will come back in the future and spend money, who will shop, who will use our hotels, our restaurants and in general think very favorably of our city,” she said. “And so, if there is a reason to extend DROP, then this is the reason to do it,” said Bass.

In 2011, Mayor Nutter called on City Council to pass legislation that would end DROP. He – and many others – argued that the retirement payments were costing a cash-strapped city millions.

Nutter’s request ultimately went nowhere, though at least two city council members weren’t re-elected because of their participation in the program.

DROP was also tweaked in an effort to make it more cost-neutral. The changes increased the retirement age for non-uniformed employees and reduced the interest rate paid to program participants.

City employees can still technically retire for a day, collect their DROP payout, and then return to work, though they would be ineligible to enroll in the program again.

Elected officials are no longer able to enroll in DROP.

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