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Fort Smith Announces Cuts in Police/Fire Pensions
Updated On: Jun 03, 2015
Excerpted from The City Wire -- Fort Smith in 2004 implemented a higher 3.28 multiplier for the pension plan, up from the base multiplier of 2.94. When the base multiplier was adopted, the city had an $11.863 million balance in its pension contribution fund and was adding $1.346 million annually to the plan. That was before the financial crisis of 2008, when the plan started withdrawing more money than the city was putting in, setting it up for the eventual insolvency projected for 2019.
The resolution before the Board on Tuesday was to revert back to the “BP 1” multiplier of 2.94.
“The change to BP 1 is estimated to save $447,534 in 2016 and $516,297 a year by 2026. This change is one of the actions discussed at the study session to make Fort Smith’s LOPFI Contribution Fund more financially sustainable,” City Administrator Ray Gosack noted in a memo to the Board. “Continued discussion of additional actions to strengthen the fund will be planned for an upcoming study session. The actions will assure proper funding of the city’s pension obligations.”
The BP 1 multiplier is used by a “vast majority” of cities participating in the pension program, Gosack said in the memo.
Several police and fire employees addressed the Board, saying average pay is already low for fire and police officers. They also noted that pay raises have been infrequent over the years, and that the one thing the officers have to look forward to is the retirement plan. Fort Smith Police Chief Kevin Lindsey said lowering the benefit multiplier would “severely demoralize” his department.
Following remarks from police and fire officers, Director Lau said he has been trying for the past 2.5 years to get the city staff and Board to address the problem.
“I’m mad as hell because I’m put in this position,” Lau said, adding that the pension problem is an example of results from a poor budgeting process.
Lau and Pennartz also objected to forming a committee and giving it three months to come up with a solution, with Pennartz said a committee is “just another way of putting off making a decision.” Lorenz agreed, saying that forming a committee is “kicking the pension problem down the road, and the end of the road is getting close.” Pennartz was one of several Directors who said multiplier change is just one part of addressing the problem. She “committed” to the fire and police officers of not pushing the problem forward but instead finding other “revenue enhancements” and general fund budget cuts to address the pension problem.
Director Catsavis was also pointed in his remarks, saying that “past mismanagement and neglect” resulted in the city funding things other than necessities. He noted that the city can find “millions of dollars for waterparks,” but when it comes to finding money for pension shortfalls, “Y’all (police and fire officers) are out of luck.”
A motion by Director Hutchings to form a committee and give them three months to find a solution failed by a 3-4 vote. The Board then voted 5-2 to move the multiplier back to the BP 1 formula. Directors Catsavis and Hutchings voted against the multiplier reduction.
Following the vote, the Board set a June 23 study session solely for the purpose of considering other possible solutions to the pension issue.