Pension plan passed Chattanooga City Council’s first reading

By: Nick Porter 

CHATTANOOGA, TN (UTC/ The Loop) –  The Chattanooga City Council approved the pension board’s recommended legislation to address the massive debt to the pension fund.

Mayor  Berke addressing Pension Plan

Mayor Berke addressing Pension Plan

The drawn out six-month debate on the public safety employees’ retirement benefits came to a close Tuesday evening when the Chattanooga City Council unanimously approved the first reading of the new legislation.

The plan approved by the pension task force appointed by Mayor Andy Berke’s, is supposed to save Chattanooga $227 million over the next 25 years and make sure future retirement benefits are secure.

According to a recent evaluation by the city, the budget currently can only supply 54 percent of the promised benefits, and with the new legislation the city can afford 64 percent of the benefits.

Before the vote, the mayor said that the plan before them would secure a pension benefit for employees and retirees in the future, a promise he and many others agree could not be guaranteed otherwise.

“The changes that you’re about to consider to our police and fire pension fund are really an important moment in our city,” Berke said.

The savings stem primarily from a reduced cost-of-living adjustment to retirees’ benefits. Currently, pension checks go up 3 percent every year to account for inflation. The new plan would move the COLA to a tiered system in which retirees receive, on average, an annual adjustment of 1.5 percent.

The city is expected to save $5.1 million in 2014 under the changes. Berke said the freed-up revenue could be used to fix pay discrepancies in the police department in which lower-ranking officers earn more than those in more senior positions.
Not everyone in the city council meeting was happy about the new legislation. Kirk Salter, a retired sergeant in the Chattanooga police force, stood outside city council visibly upset after the vote on Tuesday. He said, “the Supreme Court rules that you can’t do something detrimental to change the pension plan, and thats just what their doing.”
Salter said, city council and Mayor Berke have not had the city’s public safety at heart when deciding this plan and that they are no friends of emergency responders.

 

He says his next step is to take the city to federal court because Andy Berke, Travis Mcdonough, and the City Council are knowingly exposing the city to liability and violating the law. He hopes to have his case represented pro-bona and has strongly voiced his opinion over the last few months.
The City Council will vote two more times on the ordinance. The vote Tuesday, along with unanimous approval by the pension board last week, was seen as a clear sign that the changes will soon be law.
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