When the town freezes its pension plan for general employees Sept. 30, approximately six employees will lose a chance at early retirement.
At the Longboat Key Town Commission’s Monday, May 20 regular workshop, senior planner and Key resident Steve Schield asked Town Manager Dave Bullock and the commission to consider allowing those employees to enter the town’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), which allows employees, for up to five years, to collect pensions while still working.
Schield noted that Bullock offered some senior firefighters the option to enter the DROP early through union negotiations as part of an agreement that led to the ratification of a new three-year contract with the firefighters in February. Schield said the town will probably offer the police officers the same option during their ongoing contract negotiations.
“I’m asking you to honor the general employees by letting employees within five years of retirement into a DROP plan,” Schield said.
Although Bullock is not offering them the early DROP option, he did poll the employees earlier this month to determine whether they wanted to go into the Florida Retirement System (FRS) plan or a defined-contribution plan moving forward.
Employees opted for new retirement accounts for future benefits instead of the FRS option, and Bullock has created a budget line item for fiscal year 2013-14 for the new accounts in which the town will contribute 6% for employees, with general employees voluntarily contributing up to 6% of their salaries.
Without the early DROP option, approximately six employees would have to take an early retirement and pay an early-retirement penalty payment to retire now.
Commissioner Lynn Larson said police and fire departments around the country have higher benefits because their employment requires hazard work.
Commissioners Jack Duncan and Pat Zunz, though, argued the general employees should be allowed the same option as other employees.
“My concern is treating people differently,” Duncan said.
Bullock explained he did not offer the option to the general employees because they are not an organized union and the offer would “cost a significant amount of money.”
“I made a choice with the fire department during negotiations to allow a group of people to get into DROP because it accomplished several goals,” Bullock said. “It’s what I needed to do to get a contract that was adopted.”
Bullock said he believes “we’re not taking anything away from everyone.”
“In this freeze, I didn’t afford this opportunity to the general employees,” Bullock said.
The commission moved the ordinance forward that freezes the general employees’ plan to a second reading June 3, but the issue is likely to come up again.