The Longboat Key Firefighters Pension Board approved two separate pension investigations at its Nov.
17 quarterly meeting. The two investigations will cost taxpayers roughly $65,000, despite the urging of the Town Commission not to do them.
The commission previously expressed an issue with the pension board’s decision to hire Benchmark Financial Services to perform a $50,000 audit.
Knowing that the commission had issues with the study being performed, St. Denis asked that the meeting be advertised as a Town Commission meeting, which allowed commissioners to voice their concerns at the meeting.
But the three commissioners in attendance (Lynn Larson, David Brenner and Phillip Younger) and Town Manager St. Denis chose not to speak at the six-hour meeting.
The pension board, which is made up of a majority of firefighters, wants to analyze all the decisions made by the board, its attorneys and its actuaries. Pension Board Chairman Keith Tanner says the studies need to be performed because suspicions about the underfunded pension plan have continued to grow, and its members want closure on what caused the issues.
The board will enter into the contract with Benchmark to investigate everyone who has made decisions for the pension. It agreed to hire actuary firm Segal Co. to research Foster & Foster’s (the town’s pension actuary firm) actuarial recommendations.
The board made the decision, despite the fact that pension board attorney Robert Sugarman was unable to work out a contract with Benchmark, and Benchmark eventually refused to work with him. Tanner said he began negotiations with Benchmark and was able to enter into a contract.
Firefighters Tanner and Brandon Desch, as well as retired firefighter Michael Murphy, approved both studies.
Key resident Shannon Gault voted against both motions, and Key resident Gerald Feder voted against the Benchmark motion and for the Segal Co. motion.
“It’s been reported to me that town officials have been quoted as saying this board made bad investments,” Sugarman said. “So we might have lost the confidence of town officials. And much to my disappointment, some of the trustees themselves even want themselves investigated. Because of all of this doubt and concern, I think we owe it to them to alleviate concerns and have someone take a look at this plan.”
Tanner believes the majority of the issues resides with Foster & Foster.
“There is no doubt in my mind Foster & Foster has given us decisions based with direct persuasion from the town to do this for the town’s benefit and for their payments to be decreased,” said Tanner, referring to the board’s decision in 2001 to spread out investment losses from 15 years to 30 years. “Now all the decisions we made to help the town are being turned around on us in (contract) negotiations.”
After the meeting, Town Manager Bruce St. Denis said there was no point in arguing whether the study should be done.
St. Denis, however, disputed claims made by the firefighters at the meeting.
“The town has never said the unfunded liability is the reason we can’t offer raises,” St. Denis said. “There has been a drop in every category of the town’s revenues.”
St. Denis also said the town originally proposed a one-year contract that would have left the firefighters contract as is.
“We wouldn’t even be having these discussions if that offer or subsequent offers were accepted,” St. Denis said.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].