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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2013 4 years ago

Pension board members are on the decline

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

The town’s new Firefighters Pension Board is losing a member each time it meets.

When the new seven-person board first met May 15, firefighter/paramedic and Longboat Key Fire Rescue District Vice President Keith Tanner didn’t repeat the oath of office and walked out of the meeting, after claiming the board went against state statutes.

When the board met again July 12, it lost another member.

Firefighter/paramedic and board member Matt Taylor walked out of the meeting as soon as it started. Tanner, meanwhile, didn’t come back for the board’s second meeting.

“I don’t feel comfortable moving forward with any actions,” Taylor said. “The state is not agreeing with what the town is doing. I don’t feel comfortable being up here.”

Town Manager Dave Bullock chose both Taylor and Tanner for the new board, which consists of five Key residents (whom the Longboat Key Town Commission chose) and two firefighters. The board is responsible for overseeing a pension plan that will be frozen Sept. 30.

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. The town must now opt out of those funds to freeze the plan. It’s the belief of some firefighters, though, 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.

To assuage any concerns, Linn also recommended the town approve an emergency ordinance that states the town is freezing the plan and no longer accepting Chapter 175 funds. The commission approved that ordinance in May.

But it hasn’t made Tanner and Taylor any more comfortable. They continue to point to a May 16 letter submitted to the town from the Division of Retirement that questioned the new pension board and the Chapter 175 funds. Linn responded to the state a week later, providing officials with the emergency ordinance and laying out how the town’s actions are consistent as it works to freeze the current pension plan.

“There’s been no further response from the state,” Linn said. “This board has ample legal authority to continue, and it’s a properly constituted board that’s not subject to Chapter 175 anymore.”

Bullock, meanwhile, told the Longboat Observer that he has advised both Taylor and Tanner to let him know how they plan to proceed by Friday.

“I have asked them to let me know anything I should know about their participation by the end of this week,” said Bullock, who will be forced to make new appointments if they decide not to attend future meetings.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].

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