Unified Police honors Sen. Harper for work to restore public safety retirement benefits
Aug 05, 2019 12:02PM
● By Carl Fauver
Mayor Kristie Overson, Councilman Brad Christopherson and State Sen. Wayne Harper (center, L-R) are flanked my law enforcement representatives, after Harper was honored at a Taylorsville City Council meeting. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
Veteran Utah lawmaker and Taylorsville City Economic Development Director Wayne Harper has spent better than 20 years tackling thorny issues at the state capitol. As a house member from 1997 to 2012, and a state senator since 2013, Harper has earned a reputation for coalition building and tenacity.
Earlier this summer, the Unified Police Department and, in particular, its Taylorsville Precinct, honored Harper for applying those legislative skills to help heal what has been an open wound in the state’s police and fire community, ever since a second, lesser “tier” of retirement benefits was created for emergency responders.
“As a (Taylorsville) city employee, Wayne has attended city council meetings for years now, where I have discussed the challenges of recruiting and retaining police officers, since the Tier II retirement policy went into effect (in 2011),” said Unified Police Precinct Chief Tracy Wyant. “Finally, last fall, he pulled me aside after a meeting and said, ‘I think the timing is right (at the state legislature) — let’s fix this.’ And then he worked to get it done.”
Utah’s emergency responders hired prior to 2011 — those who became known as “Tier I” employees — remain eligible to receive 50% of their final annual salary as retirement pay after 20 years of service. However, the new “Tier II” required employees to work 25 years to be eligible for retirement. And after those additional five years, they would only receive 37.5% of their final annual salaries.
“The cut was dramatic and hurt our morale, in addition to making it harder to find new officers,” Wyant said. “But after being told for several years that nothing could be done, Harper went out and did it anyway.”
Under his Senate Bill 129, which eventually passed both the house and senate by overwhelming margins, Harper was able to restore the retirement to 50% of annual salary. Two retirement tiers remain, as those hired after 2011 will still have to work the additional five years (25 vs. 20 years) to receive the benefit.
“One of my proudest days ever (at the state legislature) was the day we debated this bill on the hill,” Harper told the Taylorsville City Council meeting audience, on hand as he received his recognition plaque from Wyant and the UPD. “The gallery was packed with police and firefighters — people who put their lives on the line every day for us — all dressed in their uniforms. In all my years in the legislature, I would say this was one of the four most important pieces of legislation I have ever sponsored. I’m glad we were able to get it done.”
The plaque Wyant had made for Harper includes a famous quote from author and humorist Mark Twain: “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
Among those who were both a little astonished and incredibly grateful for Harper’s efforts were the presidents of both the Utah Sheriffs’ Association (Tooele County Sheriff Paul Wimmer) and the Utah Chiefs of Police Association (Orem Police Chief Gary Giles), who each attended the senator’s recognition ceremony at the council meeting.
“I don’t know how he read the tea leaves to know this was the right time, but he took the bull by the horns and got it done,” Wimmer said of Harper’s efforts. “He pulled all of the stakeholders together for a number of different meetings to work through issues. I told the senator, he is what a legislator should be.”
Orem Police Chief Giles added, the changes Harper marshalled through the legislature are already paying dividends, even though they will not actually take effect for another year.
“Morale among our Tier II officers has gone up since the bill passed, even though the changes have not been officially implemented,” he said. “Just knowing (their retirement) is getting fixed has created such a big improvement. These people are now talking about staying in their careers longer.”
Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson and each member of the City Council also shared words of praise with Harper. The council has long been on record, strongly supporting increased pay for UPD officers in order to make the agency more competitive.
“Public safety is paramount, and this was an effort to restore what had been taken away years ago,” Overson said. “Wayne is well-respected. He is a statesman who gets things done. We are lucky to have him as our representative.”