The Palm Beach County court was charged with determining whether
firefighter and police certification pay was, prior to March 11, 2004, included
in the definition of earnings under the City’s Retirement System Ordinance.
Certification pay is compensation paid to city employees for obtaining, and
maintaining, state certification in certain categories.
In rejecting the city’s argument that certification pay
is a “bonus,” the court found instructive the actual language used in
Section 33.60 of the Ordinance, which excludes from basic wages bonuses and
“any other non-regular payments.” The court said the use of the term
“other” suggests that bonuses are non-regular, and certification pay
is a regular monthly payment earned by an employee for maintaining a state
“Once earned, certification pay becomes a part of
the normal remuneration due the certified employee. The fact that this
remuneration is paid separately is of no moment,” the court order said.
With this the court also rejected the city’s argument
that including certification pay in the definition of earnings would create a
new benefit without actuarial support.
The court chastised both parties for not resolving the issue
further. According to the court order, the dispute between the city and the
Board of Trustees of the City of Delray Beach Police Officers and Firefighters
Retirement System over whether certification pay is a part of earnings under the
Ordinance has existed for more than 13 years. The court said the ambiguity could
have been, and should have been, addressed 13 years ago by a simple amendment
to the ordinance clarifying employee rights, and the City’s obligations.
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