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Friday, July 13, 2012

Cuts to Firefighter Pensions Pass City, Firemen Take Fight to Court

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2012 at 1:32 PM

Call it a burn, or call it cleaning up house.  This firefighter is ready for either.
  • Call it a burn, or call it cleaning up house. This firefighter is ready for either.

The Board of Alderman finally voted today to pass Mayor Francis Slay's firefighter pension overhaul, a bill that eliminates benefits that the city has deemed unaffordable.

Demetris "Al" Alfred, a firefighter and union representative to IAFF Local 73, said he was disappointed by the vote but that the firefighters union is ready to protest the cuts in court.

"We were willing to negotiate, we were willing to take concessions," Alfred said. "But the mayor played hardball."

The firefighter pension system's trustees have filed suit against the bill, and last week, a judge blocked Slay's move to stop them. A ruling on one part of the suit is expected later next month, but it looks like it'll be a long, hot summer in court for the city's firefighters.

After seven months of debate, Board Bill 12 passed 17-10, with Alderpeople Freeman Bosley, Samuel Moore, Kacie Starr Triplett, Larry Arnowitz, Terry Kennedy, Antonio French, Jeffrey Boyd, Joseph Vaccaro, Joseph Vollmer, and President Lewis Reed voting against.

Alderwoman Marlene Davis voted in favor of the pension overhaul, but said she believes it is unfair to firefighters.

"I watched that blaze on TV yesterday and I watched the guys with all that heat around them.. I'm sorry but you can't pay me enough to do that and we're not paying them enough."

But she concluded that the key thing to do now, is for the city to get its finances in order.

Jennifer Florida, alderwoman of Ward 15, said that while the process of debating and vetting this bill has been "unpleasant", she had few qualms about voting to approve it.

"I think it's so important that we put the taxpayers first," she said. "We don't want a bankruptcy judge to determine how our funds are managed."

Alderman Craig Schmid, the legislation's sponsor, wrapped up debate by reciting Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" to some less-than-subtle eye-rolling from across the floor.

Looking back at some of the numbers around this legislation, it's clear that there have been some tough decisions:

55 , the age firefighters will now have to reach before they can retire with a full pension. Previously there was no minimum age, only a commitment of 20 years on the force.

30, the number of police officer who won't lose their jobs this year due to budget cuts, because this bill has passed, according to a promise Slay made last month.

$8 million, the amount of money Slay says the city will save next year because of these cuts.

600, the number of firefighters currently on the force who will not see their current benefits change, but will be asked to pay 1 percent more of their paycheck into the pension system.

25 percent, the proportion a firefighter's salary could be slimmed to when they take disability pension under the new legislation. Previously firefighters claiming disability could receive 75 percent of their salary, a system legislators and firefighters have acknowledged was being abused (like really abused).

600 percent, the increase between 2001 and 2010 of city payments into the fire pension system. The bill notes that now nearly a third of the fire department's budget ($23 million in 2010) is spent paying off pensions. In 2001, the city paid just $3.4 million into the fire pension system.

20, the number of lines of poetry recited during this meeting.

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