The city’s Employee Retirement Fund has called an election of Fort Worth police officers to find out if they want to to raise their contributions to the city pension plan, in exchange for retaining their benefit formula.
The board wasn’t required to call the election. "But it is difficult for board members, who are fiduciaries of the fund, to turn down a request by members to contribute additional funding that could improve the long-term health of the fund," Ruth Ryerson, the fund’s executive director, said.
Ballots went out earlier this week to the 1,573 active officers the fund said are eligible to vote. If a majority of those eligible vote for the proposal, the issue would fall to the City Council, which would have the option of accepting or rejecting the results.
The Council would have to vote if it wants to accept the results.
What would happen next is not clear. Under the ballot language, the city and Police Officers Association would have to work out a memorandum of understanding that would then be part of the new contract the city is negotiating with police officers.
The City Council earlier this summer voted to give general and police employees 90 days notice of changes to the pension fund that would reduce benefits for future service, but not for past service, which are protected by the state constitution. The changes are designed to bring the pension’s substantial unfunded liability under control.
It’s not clear whether the council is amenable to negotiating with the association. City officials say their actuary is studying the impact of the police officers proposal on the fund and hasn’t reached a conclusion.
Mayor Betsy Price declined an interview, but said in a statement: "I remain committed to addressing Fort Worth’s pension challenges, and still believe we need a pension plan that is both affordable and sustainable for those members in the plan. In October, the City Council will have a chance to consider all of the facts and details before making an informed decision about the future of the pension plan."
Sgt. Steve Hall, the association president, has argued potential benefit cuts hurt police morale and endanger officers.
"It’s sending a message to the officers that their lives and their sacrifices are somewhat devalued, and it directly impacts the officers and the citizens of Fort Worth," Hall said in an interview.
"We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the problem," he said. "We didn’t want to play games with it. We wanted a legitimate offer to the city that we felt we could support, not only mathematically, but morally."
The association is offering to raise officers’ pension contribution to 11.73 percent of gross pay, from the current 8.73 percent. General and fire employees pay 8.25 percent of pay into the pension.
In giving notice to the general and police employees this summer, the City Council said it would reduce the so-called "multiplier" that helps determine benefits. The Police Association proposal retains the current multiplier.
The city’s new pension formula would base retirement benefits for future service on an average of an employee’s five highest years of pay, instead of the current three. The Police Association proposal would retain the three years’ average for current officers, but offered five years for officers hired in the future.
The city’s new formula would eliminate overtime in calculations for future service, so employees – largely police - can no longer "spike" their retirement benefits by working a lot of overtime in their final years.
The police association proposal retains a cap on overtime in pension calculations at 12 percent of base pay for the highest three years of pay.
The city’s pension changes don’t affect firefighters, because the city is preparing to enter contract negotiations with the firefighters.
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter