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Longboat Key Wednesday, May. 5, 2010 7 years ago

Larson questions employee benefits

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Commissioner Lynn Larson wants the town to look at benefits instead of salaries to save money.

Mostly, Larson takes issue with a 401(k) matching contribution incentive for the police and fire-rescue departments.

“Why does the town pay into a 401(k) for town employees when it already offers them a pension plan?” Larson asked. “I’d rather go after benefits than salaries to save money.”

At the Longboat Key Town Commission’s 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 5 special budget workshop, Commission Lynn Larson says she will ask Town Manager Bruce St. Denis to consider saving money by whittling away at benefits instead of salaries.

Since June 6, 1985, the town has matched 25 cents for every $1 contribution for employees with one to five years of service to the town.

After five years, the town has matched 50 cents for every $1 contribution for employees.

All full-time employees after one year of service are eligible for town matching contributions that come from budgeted or surplus funds as determined by the Town Commission.

In fiscal year 2008-09, the town spent $138,042.14 to match 401(k) contributions for employees. And so far
in fiscal year 2009-10, the town has spent $126,119 for employee contribution matches.

Larson, a former town police- pension trustee, says the town needs to re-evaluate its benefits for employees.

“The town is not a profit center,” Larson said. “We need to look closely at what we’re doing here.”

Larson says the town offers “a generous benefit package,” including pension plans and health benefits.

“I think the employees do a great job here,” Larson said. “But it’s not going to be a deal breaker for our staff to lose some of the more than generous benefits we are offering them.”

Larson also wants St. Denis to consider cutting commission travel and training expenses; insurance costs; life and disability insurance expenses; and retirement benefits for managers.

The town, for instance, pays 100% of the cost for one of the medical plans offered to employees.

“It’s easier to go after benefits than salaries,” Larson said. “Especially when it’s an excess benefit.”

When questioned about the town’s decision to offer both a 401(k) plan and a pension for employees, St. Denis said the decision predates him; St. Denis was hired in October 1996.

Said St. Denis: “When the town had its pensions, the state offered a cost-of-living adjustment and the town did not. So the town implemented this to address a cost-of-living incentive.”

St. Denis notes that the latest three-year labor contract offered to the Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department gives the firefighters a choice of either keeping their 401(k) plans or their cost-of-living adjustment.

“The matching contributions are what’s costing the town money,” St. Denis said.

Contact Kurt Schulteis at [email protected].

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