Fort Worth Considers Changes to Fund Pension - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Fort Worth Considers Changes to Fund Pension

Possible changes to benefits for existing retirees are controversial

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    Fort Worth Considers Changes to Fund Pension

    Fort Worth's city manager will present a plan to the city council on Tuesday to solve a pension shortfall that includes changing benefits for existing retirees, a move he admits will be controversial. (Published Monday, June 4, 2018)

    Fort Worth's city manager will present a plan to the city council on Tuesday to solve a pension shortfall that includes changing benefits for existing retirees, a move he admits will be controversial.

    Most retirees now receive automatic two-percent cost-of-living increases.

    City Manager David Cooke suggested reducing or eliminating that benefit in a memo obtained by NBC DFW.

    "That currently is on the table and I would expect it's got some controversy with it," he acknowledged in an interview.

    Detective Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, is a member of the city's pension task force and said he's confident the city can find a solution that may include increased employee contributions – without touching promised benefits to retirees.

    "Morally, maybe even legally, that's important that we don't take away earned benefits," he said. "The old 'promise made is a promise kept.' That's a big thing for us."

    Fort Worth's pension fund crisis has simmered for years.

    The city's credit rating has taken two hits in recent years because of the unfunded liability.

    "We know it's not sustainable on its current course,” Cooke said.

    Any solution must come from more taxpayer money, increased employee contributions, or reduced benefits, he said.

    "My initial impression is it's just not fair to change the rules," said firefighter Jim Tate, 60, who retired two years ago after 31 years with the department.

    He said it’s not fair to change his promised benefits.

    "They've cut our health care. Now they're coming after the pension,” he said. "I'm worried but I do think the majority of council will do the right thing."

    Tate, former president of the Fort Worth Firefighters Association, said firefighters offered to contribute five percent more to the pension fund five years ago.

    "They wouldn't even consider it,” he said. "There was never a counter offer. They just pushed it aside."

    It's not fair to blame employees for the city's lack of a solution, he said.

    Cooke said the problem has been years in the making but added the city must focus on finding a solution.

    "Back in the 1990s, we increased benefits, we reduced contributions, we made it retroactive for everybody, and we assumed that it would get paid for forever," he said.

    Cooke said he will present his final recommendations to the City Council in August.

    The city previously has reduced benefits for existing employees and increased taxpayer contributions to the pension fund. But a shortfall remains and the fund is projected to run out of money between 2040 and 2050 if no changes are made.