Employees seek DROP benefit

 

Employees seek DROP benefit

 

Date: July 10, 2013
by: Robin Hartill | City Editor

 
 

 

$750 a month.

That’s the amount emergency-services specialist Maureen Monahan told the Longboat Key Town Commission she expects to lose in monthly benefits if the general employees pension plan is frozen without an option for early retirement, or entering the Deferred Retirement Options Program (DROP).

$743 a month.

That’s the monthly mortgage payment of the 25-year town employee’s home that she was finally able to purchase two years ago.

“This house I worked so hard for, this house I love, this house I can no longer afford to keep. Your plan is not fair, Mr. Bullock,” said Monahan, who was one of three general employees to address the commission July 1.

$875,000 over 25 years, or $35,000 per year.

That’s the estimated bill for Longboat Key taxpayers if the commission allows general employees within five years of retirement options for DROP and/or early retirement.

The commission voted 4-2 to continue the July 1 public hearing to allow Town Manager Dave Bullock to return with language that adds a five-year DROP option to the ordinance, which will freeze the pension plan Sept. 30, and information about the impact of an early-retirement option. The continued public hearing has since been scheduled for Aug. 14.

DROP employees are effectively retired but continue to work for the town, and the town places their monthly pension checks in an interest-bearing account.

The contract firefighters ratified in February included a DROP option, but several commissioners pointed out that firefighters and police typically have different benefits than general employees because their jobs are high-risk.

The state first implemented DROP in the early 2000s to give top public-sector employees an incentive to stay in their positions instead of going to work in the private sector, Bullock explained to the commission.

Commissioner Jack Duncan urged fellow commissioners to allow general employees to enter DROP, saying that the commission’s goal was to get out of the pension business while remaining committed to maintaining benefits for employees.

“The issue involved is not trying to nickel-and-dime to save money. It was to stop hemorrhaging and figure out how to pay the money over time,” he said.

Commissioner Phill Younger disagreed.

“This is the type of hemorrhaging we’ve been trying to stop,” he said.

Absent from the discussion was Commissioner Lynn Larson, who said she desperately tried to reschedule emergency gallbladder surgery to attend the meeting. She said she was livid after the vote July 1.

“I appreciate our town employees … but we have struggled so hard to try to bring pension reform to the town, to try to get costs under control. What message are we sending?” she asked.

After Monday’s meeting, she requested a list of town employee salaries by title.

“I wanted to look and do some research about how our employees are being compensated and see whether the salaries looked fair,” Larson said. “I think they’re generous.”

The commission is typically on hiatus during August but agreed to return for the special meeting to work toward Bullock’s goal of freezing the pension plan.

“Closing the plan at the end of the fiscal year is immensely sensible,” Bullock said. “We still need time to calculate benefits, and eight employees will have to make decisions about what to do.”

Contact Robin Hartill at rhartill@yourobserver.com.

Click here to see a chart of the town employees' salaries.

 

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