The makeup of the Firefighters’ Retirement System Board of Trustees has changed, but tense debates and drama continue at the board’s quarterly meetings.
On Wednesday, May 15, a new board the Longboat Key Town Commission and Town Manager Dave Bullock created met for the first time. The board now consists of five Key residents and two firefighters and is responsible for overseeing a pension plan that will be frozen Sept. 30.
But, before the new board members could even be sworn in, firefighter/paramedic and Longboat Key Fire Rescue District Vice President Keith Tanner requested to speak to fellow board members. Board Chairman Gerald Feder refused to grant his request, and when the new board was asked to repeat the oath of office, Tanner half-heartedly raised his hand and did not repeat the oath of office.
Once the oath of office was complete, Tanner said, “What’s happening here is wrong, and I’m excluding myself from this meeting.”
Tanner walked out of the meeting, and at least five firefighters in the audience got up and walked out as well.
Firefighter/paramedic and board member Matt Taylor chose to stay on the dais and continue Tanner’s quest.
“The makeup of this board goes against state statutes,” Taylor said. “It flies in the face of what Chapter 175 says. Why are we here?”
Approximately $200,000 a year in state subsidy money, dubbed Chapter 175 monies, has been given to the firefighter pension plan for years to help fund firefighter pension benefits. It’s the belief of some firefighters that their current pension plan has to be frozen before a new board can oversee the plan.
Bullock told the board that the current course of action calls for the pension plan to be frozen Sept. 30 and all eligible firefighter employees will be enrolled in the Florida Retirement System (FRS) pension plan Oct. 1.
Town pension attorney James Linn told Taylor the town and the new board are not going against state statues because the town has agreed to no longer accept Chapter 175 funds as it works to freeze the pension plan.
“Chapter 175 is at its heart a revenue-sharing mechanism whereby cities can participate in a redistribution of premium tax revenues on property-insurance premiums to help fund firefighter pension funds,” Linn said. “With the change of the composition of this board, the plan no longer complies with Chapter 175, and the town will soon bring forward an ordinance that specifically rescinds its participation in Chapter 175.”
Linn said the board and the pension plan moving forward follows general pension plan statutes, and firefighters don’t have to transfer to the FRS pension plan before the plan is frozen.
When Tanner re-entered the meeting an hour later to speak during the public-to-be-heard portion of the meeting, he reiterated his belief the pension board is illegal.
The discussion led Linn to recommend the Longboat Key Town Commission adopt an emergency ordinance at a special meeting Monday, May 20 that would proclaim the town is withdrawing from Chapter 175 funding.
The emergency characterization allows the commission to take formal action following first reading rather than requiring first reading and then second reading and public hearing.
“Our attorney felt we were in good standing, but he recommended we move this forward to clear up any questions associated with the validity of this new pension board,” said Bullock, at the Monday, May 20 regular workshop.
Firefighters, though, may not have been overreacting, and the town may have acted swiftly with an emergency ordinance.
The town received a letter dated May 16 from the chief of the Bureau of Local Retirement Systems for the Department of Management Services. The letter stated the department feels the former pension board should be reinstated until the town officially canceled its participation in Chapter 175 funds.
At Monday’s workshop and subsequent special meeting, commissioners also approved ordinances on first reading that will freeze both the firefighter and general employees’ pension plans Sept. 30.
At the Longboat Key Town Commission’s Monday, May 20 regular workshop and special meeting, commissioners:
Held a discussion:
• On the conditions needed to declare conditions exist for condemnation at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
• On a possible referendum to add grandfathered Colony Beach & Tennis Resort units to the town’s existing tourism pool of 250 tourism units.
• Further action at this time on condemnation for most of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
• Further action at this time on a possible referendum to add grandfathered Colony Beach & Tennis Resort units to the town’s existing tourism pool of 250 tourism units.
• Executing a $125,000 contract with the Urban Land Institute until a workshop can be held to discuss questions the institute will ask Key residents.
• Executing a contract with town attorney Maggie-Mooney Portale until both sides can review certain details.