Disabled officer pleads for restoration of pension benefits

By Karen Kucher
UNION-TRIBUNE BREAKING NEWS TEAM
1:23 p.m. September 19, 2006

SAN DIEGO – A retired San Diego police officer who lost his left leg in the line of duty made an emotional plea to the City Council on Tuesday to restore pension benefits recently cut for him and about 180 other former city workers on disability retirement.
“I bled for you. I busted my butt for you,” Dan Toneck, 37, told the council. “Please, please help and fix this.”

Toneck said his monthly retirement check dropped by $322 in July when the retirement system changed how it interpreted a 2000 court settlement that determined how retiree benefits would be calculated.
Toneck, a traffic accident investigator, lost his leg in 1998 when his patrol car was hit by a drunken driver in Pacific Beach. He was retrieving a camera from the trunk of his car when another vehicle crashed into his, pinning his leg between the cars.

Fitted with a prosthetic limb, Toneck underwent eight months of grueling rehabilitation and returned to his job as a street cop in 1999.

But in July 2005, he decided the pain and bleeding were too much and retired after 15 years on the force.

“It got to the point my body was hurting all the time. It got to the point I couldn't take it anymore,” he said.

Toneck said when he retired, he was making about $70,000 a year. His retirement pay was about 50 percent of his salary.

In May, Toneck and about 180 retirees were notified by the city's pension system that their monthly retirement checks would be reduced by 10 percent, the amount they had been increased under a 2000 court agreement known as the Corbett settlement.

The retirement system decided that disabled retirees who retired without having met age or service requirements – such as retiring as a police officer before the age of 50 – were not covered by the Corbett settlement and thus were being overpaid, according to a June 19 memo to the council from Retirement Administrator David Wescoe.

“Since I was a disability retiree, and I retired prior to my service date of 50 years old – I was 36 years old when I retired – I didn't qualify for the Corbett claim,” Toneck said. “And that's 10 percent of my check.

“That's a lot of money, that's $3,600 a year. This is a lifetime benefit.”

Although he planned ahead and said he's now doing OK financially, Toneck worries about what he'll do in ten years, if his payments continue to lag behind the cost of living.

Toneck, who lives in Alpine, works occasionally as a consultant, doing traffic accident investigations for private attorneys as well as prosecutors.

“I support the city. I'm a city man,” Toneck said after the meeting. “I already cut. I gave you my leg. I bled. I put the city first. I think the disability retirees should be the last people that are being asked to make cuts. I already made sacrifices.”

Although the council could not take any formal action on the issue because it was not on the agenda, Council President Scott Peters said City Attorney Michael Aguirre will study the interpretation of the Corbett settlement as it relates to disabled retirees.

“We will look for a response to that and bring this forward,” Peters told Toneck as he left the podium. “I think I speak for all my colleagues when I say thanks again for your service to our city.”