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How About We Pay City Workers Their Pensions When They Turn 60 Years Old, Instead Of When They Turn 45?

Some city workers are getting a sweet deal on retirement

by Dan D'Ambrosio

September 27, 2010

Tim Sullivan got everyone’s attention at a city council meeting earlier this month when he gave a short presentation on the city’s pension plan during the public comment period.

Sullivan, a local businessman who served on a task force formed by the city council to examine the city’s finances, characterized the pension plan as “outrageously generous” with “six-figure pensions” for former employees who retire after 20 years while still in their 40s.

“This is happening every month,” Sullivan said. “You have to look at the contracts and re-do them or the pension system will collapse.”

Focusing in on the police, Sullivan pointed out that overtime and part-time work — providing security for a parade, for example — are counted toward calculating their pension benefits.

“Think of the private sector,” he said. “Why should we be paying pension benefits at 45 years of age. Raise it to 60.”

The city will put $18 million into the pension plan this year, and will have to put in $30 million next year to keep it fully funded, according to Sullivan. He recommended that going forward, the retirement age be raised to 55 or 60, and that part-time and overtime pay no longer be counted toward pension benefits for Hartford cops.

Chief Operating Officer David Panagore says Sullivan is “not wrong” for raising the pension issue. But Panagore points out that the city’s pension fund is healthy, even in the current economic downturn.

“Pittsburgh’s pension plan is around 39 percent funded,” Panagore says. “Ours is more than 85 percent funded, trending back to 100 percent, even with the downturn in the economy.”

The question, acknowledges Panagore, is whether the city can continue to afford funding its current pension plan.

“As a [Hartford] taxpayer myself I don’t want to see them pumping $30 million to $40 million a year into the plan when you have people retiring at 44 with $116,000 pensions for the next 50 years,” says Sullivan.

The city is currently reviewing the pension plan, says Panagore.

City Councilman Matt Ritter differentiates between city employees like police officers and fire fighters, who risk their lives, and those who man a desk.

“The nature of the work they do is inherently dangerous and can have a physical impact and wear and tear on the body, mentally and physically,” Ritter says. “It does not bother me that a police officer could retire in 25 years and get a pension at 45.”

But a desk jockey who retires at 42 and starts collecting is not cool, says Ritter.

“That’s what we have to fix,” he says.

That, and the high-paying administrative jobs that pay big pensions even after less than 20 years of service. Ritter says the generous pension dates back to a time when Hartford didn’t pay administrators that well, which is no longer the case.

“We pay pretty well in this city, $150,000 [annually] for department heads in some cases,” says Ritter. “I don’t know if we need the carrot of full pension before [age] 55.”

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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