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Our view: DROP-dead disappointment

  • By
  • | 4:00 a.m. August 21, 2013
  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
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Don’t be overwhelmed by all of the numbers attached. They are worth examining. They provide great context and history to the present debates regarding the Longboat Key town employees’ pension plans.

All of this data is particularly relevant in light of last week’s 4-3 Town Commission vote to extend the Deferred Retirement Option Program to about a dozen Town Hall general employees.

Talk about a remarkable, indefensible disappointment. So much comes to mind. In no particular order:

• Undermined authority: Imagine Town Manager David Bullock now. Commissioners charged him with being the tough guy to negotiate ends to the town’s disastrous defined-benefit pension plans for all employees.
And he did.

What’s more, in this latest pension issue, he recommended against extending DROP to the general employees.

But alas, what did the commissioners do? They undermined the town manager and caved to the demands of the employees.

What message does that send? If you’re a town employee, here’s what it says: It doesn’t matter what Bullock says; they can bypass him and take their beefs to the pliable commissioners.

• $7 a year: Commissioner Jack Duncan essentially made the point that the $1.9 million DROP over 30 years would cost taxpayers about $7 more a year in property taxes for homes valued at $500,000.

Said Duncan: “I can afford $7 per year, and I put that up against the issue of fairness and the commitment we have made to our employees. When you start nickel and diming employees, you affect morale and good employees get hurt.”

This is how politicians-turned-government advocates always rationalize spending other people’s money: Hey, c’mon, it’s only $7 a year.

That’s what they say about all taxation: It’s only … And look at where we are as a nation today. Look at the labryrinth of taxation, and the wasteful spending that grows by the day. Look at the unfunded pension liabilities facing taxpayers nationwide.

Talk about “fairness.” How is any portion of the town’s $30 million in unfunded liabilities fair to taxpayers?

On that point, it’s worth noting that, according to Shannon Gault, a member of a town pension board, actuaries showed that “65% of our unfunded liability came from benefit enhancements” town officials and commissioners approved over the past 10 years.” How was that “fair” to taxpayers?

• Nickel and diming employees, fairness and morale: Duncan and Commissioner Terry Gans, two of the four who voted to extend DROP, said they worried about the morale of town employees. Their view apparently was that it would not be fair for the town to extend the DROP option to some firefighters (as occurred in recent negotiation) but not to a dozen general employees.

There is a difference. A first responder risks his life; a general employee works in an air-conditioned office his entire career.

Morale? It might be helpful for commissioners and town employees to undergo a few “reminder” sessions: 1) There is no such thing as job security — anywhere; 2) Benefits are not the same as death and taxes — absolute guarantees; 3) Compensation packages for the town of Longboat Key far outstrip those of the private sector.

If anything, commissioners and town employees might be reminded: Longboat Key’s town employees have an amazingly sweetheart deal. Losing the DROP option would hardly be unfair compared to the rest of the world. Worried about morale? In reality, town employees should be grateful for what they have!

• Taxpayers first: It’s axiomatic these days that once elected, representatives forget that “the people” are their bosses, not the other way around. They are in office to represent the people’s interests, not the government infrastructure.

• Consequences: Commissioners Duncan, Gans and Pat Zunz and Mayor Jim Brown forgot the adage of quit digging when in a hole. Unfortunately for them and Longboat taxpayers, the pension story is only going to get worse. Commissioners next must decide how to tax residents more to fund the unfunded pensions.

• Kudos: To Vice Mayor David Brenner and Commissioners Lynn Larson and Phill Younger. They remembered whom they represent.

Click here to see a breakdown of general employees' pension fund income, expense, and payouts.

Click here to see a breakdown of Longboat Key employees' total compensation.


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