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Longboat Key Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 10 years ago

Firefighter disputes pension change

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Longboat Key firefighter/paramedic Jeff Bullock shook up an ordinary firefighter retirement board meeting Wednesday, Nov. 18, when he insinuated the board never approved methodology changes in 2002 that led to a large, unfunded liability in the town’s pension plan.

Bullock, who is also one of the firefighters working to foster a new three-year contract with the town’s labor attorney, referred to letters from former state actuary Charles Slavin. Slavin questioned several of the plan’s methodology changes and disagreed with a cost-funding change seven years ago that amortized pension liabilities over a 15-year period to a fixed 30-year period. 

The state, however, accepted all of the town’s valuation reports this summer after the town agreed to pay back more than $21 million in unfunded liabilities over a 20-year period.

But Bullock said he could find nothing in the documents the town has produced that shows the board agreed to make methodology changes seven years ago.

“I respect you want to conserve taxpayer dollars, but if the state wasn’t aware of a vote on this decision by board members, your agreement (with the state) is in question,” Bullock said.

Bullock produced a list of 17 questions for the actuary and pension board attorney. The questions centered on whether the board had approved methodology changes and asked if the pension plan’s liability should be held against the firefighters as they try to broker a new contract.

Town labor attorney Reynolds Allen consistently has told the firefighters in meetings this fall that the town cannot afford to add more money in a new contract, in part because of more than $1 million the town must pay back annually in pension liabilities.

“You can’t take your pension deficits and hold that against us for employment benefits,” Bullock said. “There is some fiduciary responsibility that should be held accountable if the action that put us in this hole wasn’t voted on.”

Town Manager Bruce St. Denis and town actuary Brad Heinrichs  addressed the concerns.

St. Denis told Bullock that one of the major reasons the firefighter pension’s liability increased was because of firefighter salary-and-benefit raises, which drove up the cost of the plan’s portfolio.

“Show us what we aren’t doing right and we’ll address your concerns,” said St. Denis, who  stated that all issues that Slavin had with the town’s pension plan had been resolved.

Heinrichs also said that none of his company’s valuation reports or changes is sent to the state for approval until the boards sign off on them.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]

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