A plan to fix Fort Worth’s troubled pension fund includes increased contributions from employees and taxpayers – and would also slash cost-of-living raises for retirees.
City Manager David Cooke on Tuesday presented the plan to a pension task force, which was formed about three years ago to deal with the issue.
A retiree group threatened a lawsuit.
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The city’s pension fund has about $1.6 billion in unfunded liabilities, is projected to run out of money in about 25 years, and has led to the city’s credit rating being downgraded.
About 4,700 retirees collect pensions and automatically get two percent yearly increases, known as cost-of-living adjustments, or COLA’s.
Cooke’s plan would cut COLA’s except for those who worked for the city at least 25 years – and then only on the first $20,300.
"We're all upset,” said Marsha Anderson, president of the Coalition of Retired Employees. “You put in your 20, 25, 30 years and you think what you've done is enough. And then in the middle of the night here comes that cold hand creeping toward the billfold."
Anderson said retirees are planning a court fight.
"There is that old saying, 'You can't fight City Hall.' I've never believed in that,” she said. “So we're knocking on doors and we're pleading our case. We don't want to go hard. We don't want to go to the court system. But we will."
Mayor Betsy Price said the city is prepared for any court action and acknowledged coming up with a plan to shore up the pension fund is difficult.
"We can't ask taxpayers to pay more than their share,” Price said. “We can't ask the active employees to pay more.”
Price said retirees should be a part of the solution also.
"There are no magic numbers,” she said. “The devil is in the details. And it'll be up to us long-term to make the responsible decision."
Cooke will present his plan to the city council next week and a vote is set in September.
Then city employees would have to sign off on the changes. If they don't approve, the state could take control of the pension fund, city officials said.
Cooke’s plan calls for the city to contribute three percent more to the fund. Employees would also pay more depending on their position and years of service.
Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association, and Michael Glynn, president of the Fort Worth Firefighters Association, both said the city manager’s plan puts too much of the burden on employees.
They also said they stood with Anderson in her fight against retiree cuts.
“I don't think taking away a two percent raise from your retirees is the Fort Worth way," Anderson said.