Starting this fall, the Castle Rock Police Department can enroll its reserve officers in a state pension plan, which will provide retirement money for officers that volunteer several years of unpaid service.
The program is intended to recognize the service reserve officers provide, as well as entice volunteers to stay with the department for longer, said Reserve Officer Justin Stennick.
The city council Monday night approved a $11,300 contribution to the state Board of Volunteer Firefighters and Reserve Officers pension plan. That payment covers a $135-per-officer annual fee for the five volunteers currently in the program, as well as money to “buy back” coverage for years they served prior to enrolling in the plan.
The plan, which has been available to police departments since the mid-1990s, offers several tiers of payments based on how long a reserve officer pays into it. A city can pay into the plan on behalf of the officer, which is what Castle Rock has decided to do, Stennick said.
“The city is being very gracious in that they are paying $135 per year toward the pension plan. It’s not a requirement,” he said.
Reserve officers must pay into the plan for 25 years or more before they are eligible for full coverage, or $300 per month in retirement pay. Smaller payments are provided for reserve officers that volunteer for fewer years.
Cities can buy back hours for reserve officers that start the pension plan in the middle of their career, so those officers do not have to serve an additional 25 years under the plan to qualify for the full payments, Stennick said.
That means that a reserve officer that’s volunteered with the department for 10 years would only have to work another 15 to receive the full retirement pay, not another 25 years, Stennick said.
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The five reserve officers currently volunteering with the Castle Rock police have served the city for more than 50 years combined, Stennick said. The longest serving volunteer is Reserve Officer James Queen, who has been a reserve officer for 19 years.
Joining the pension plan has “been in the works for a long time,” Stennick said, “but given the really lean (budget) years that were happen there, we kind of held off” on enrolling.
The city last fall passed a resolution that allowed the police department to buy into the plan, and council members decided to cover the cost in the city’s budget, Stennick said.
Mayor Paul Helenberg said the plan is a “minor token of our respect” to volunteers that pour countless hours into serving and protecting the city.
Castle Rock police are considering hiring four to five more reserve officers next year, Stennick said. Those volunteers would likely be required to work a certain number of years before the city begins paying for their pension plan, he said.
“It takes roughly $1,000 to get a reserve officer into the academy, between the physical, medical checks and background checks … That is a big commitment on the city’s part,” Stennick said.
The retirement plan encourages officers to stay with the city long enough to “repay” the $1,000 cost for their training with their volunteered time, Stennick said. It also provides a financial “thank you” to reserve officers that serve the city for several years, he said.
“They do put in a lot of hours and time for their family, and it’s nice to have that extra little bit (of money) at the end,” Stennick said.