Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Pension Plan

Wow. I have some problems with this article in the New-Leader, but they might not be what you think they are.

Greg Burris, before he has even officially started his job as the new city manager of Springfield has said what we all knew he would say.

According to Wes Johnson of the News-Leader:

"...Greg Burris already plans to seek a sales tax vote early next year to deal with a huge shortfall in the pension system for city police and firefighters...."

If voters say no to the sales tax:

“Then we know that what we’ve got ahead of us are massive budget cuts, which equate into massive service cuts,” Burris said....

The article continues:

"At a recent pension presentation, Assistant Fire Chief David Hall said the sales tax should automatically end when the retirement plan reached a 90 percent funding level. At that point, interest from invested pension funds should be enough to sustain it without additional sales tax revenue, Hall said...."

And Burris goes on:

“Maybe part of a package solution is one where everybody is contributing — police and fire contribute a little more, the city is contributing more, taxpayers are contributing a little more — and we can identify some time range that this solution will sunset after X number of years.”

I think Burlison has the right idea (read the article) that he wants to see the whole plan and that the police and fire fighters have already contributed enough and shouldn't be asked to sacrifice any more than they have already sacrificed. They continue to pay into the pension fund, they never stopped paying into the pension fund.

I have no problem with supporting a sales tax, and yeah, that's going to get me in trouble with some folks, even maybe here at home, if you get my drift ;) The thing is, I think the city is going to have to exhibit a little different attitude if they want the support of people. The city wants the taxpayer to sacrifice because the city didn't contribute as they should have and because one of their past city managers failed, miserably failed, to address the issue after promising the pension board he would.

Assistant Fire Chief and Pension Board Trustee David Hall didn't stop with a sales tax, and he didn't want to see the people of Springfield have to suffer more in cuts to core city services, as they were forced to do in fiscal year 2008-09.

At Hall's presentation to the City Council he offered several recommendations, a sales tax was just one of the recommendations, albeit the key recommendation. I have to wonder why I see no one at the News-Leader outlining the complete recommendations of the board, different reporters think different things are important, I guess.

One of the other recommendations was that "reductions in the general fund should be revised to a level that does not impact core services," the new city manager must have missed that recommendation, along with the News-Leader.

Everyone at the presentation heard all of the board's recommendations, every city official and all the media received copies of the entire power point presentation to take home and consider further.

CityConnect posted The video of the Police/Fire Pension Presentation at their Web site, but I don't see anyone talking about any of those recommendations except the sales tax. I see the new city manager possibly coming up with some new ideas, like asking the police and firefighters to contribute more than they have been, but I didn't see any mention of any of the other recommendations made by the board.

Now, I understand they are only recommendations from the pension board, not mandates, but shouldn't they be being considered as a part of the equation?

The pension board has many members and at least one of them, that I know of, has spent countless hours studying how the plan got where it is today to avoid the plan getting there again in the future. I hope sour grapes, due primarily to a past lack of communication, doesn't keep our current City Council and new city manager from seriously considering recommendations which came, no doubt, after hours and hours of research and deliberation by the pension board. That wouldn't seem wise to me. When such a valuable resource is available, it should be used.

Further, I have to wonder about the wisdom of the new city manager announcing he's going to rush right into asking for a quick vote of the taxpayers for a sales tax increase to fund the pension plan before he's even taken his position.

I've been one of those people who have been saying let's give him a chance. I've been thinking we ought to at least let him mess up before we condemn him. I've been waiting, giving him the benefit of the doubt and hoping for the best but the timing of this big announcement seems a little whacked to me, a little rash.

I think the taxpayers who are being asked to rectify the mistakes the city has made in the past would like to know about the entire proposal, I think the taxpayer would like to see how the city plans to sacrifice something beyond core city services, as if the public is to pay for their mistakes, before they are ready to consider sacrificing to get the city out of the pension plan mess they allowed a past city manager to get us into due to lack of communication and oversight.

Anyway, in the meantime, if you want to read all the recommendations made by the pension board, some very good and well thought out recommendations, which were no doubt deliberated over for a considerable amount of time, check out the new issue of the "Community Free Press."

Yers truly has a pension article too, "Pensions Remain Top Council Priority."

Here's a tease:

"“In the pension board we were given a commitment from the city manager’s office that they would resolve the problem with the funding. We were told to report to the city manager’s office and that’s why all of our communications, at that time, were going to him. Obviously, now, the board sees it has to report to Council because we can see what happens whenever it gets locked up, or it did get locked up in the city manager’s office.” - Pension Board Trustee David Hall

Read more....

Update: Jason, at Life Of Jason, did his own interview with Assistant Fire Chief and Pension Board Trustee David Hall that offers further insight into the Pension Plan issue. Read it here.


tom said...

Your smart enough to realize, it isn't the part of any mainstream media source whether they be right wing or left wing to report ALL the news, just those portions which are going to make there point of preference seem very evident.

The wholly owned subsidiary of the city council wants another tax increase ergo that will be the only portion to gain media attention on those pages.

On another front I believe that your endorsement of a sales tax increase will have "OTHER" strings attached to it, unlike the Burris proposal which has the taxpayer perform the limbo dance once more to bail out incompetence.

Anonymous said...

Chestnut expressway said...

It only cost $50,000 to hire this "local boy" who came up with this brillant idea.

The University people are so much smarter than the rest of us.

Maybe we can hire a "consultant" to work with the new City Manager's staff to try to come up with some other options.

Jackie Melton said...

Tom, the presentation David Hall made to Council was similar to the one he made to MoLiCo some time ago, except that Hall and/or the board has put a lot of work into it since that earlier presentation. If you haven't watched the presentation I would recommend you do so. The link is in the body of the post.

It's my opinion that if people are really serious about fixing the pension problem they'll do what it takes to fix it. I do think the city's approach (read: City Manager's approach) could have been better, much better.

The real fact of the matter, and I failed to draw this out very well, actually not at all, in the posting, is that taxpayers have ALREADY sacrificed a great deal because of past city managers' failures to address the problem when it would have been much more manageable.

Had the City Manager's office, through the many years this problem has been building, started making budget cuts years ago it wouldn't have been necessary to make such drastic cuts, all at once, in fiscal 2008-09.

I think it would go a long way for the mismanagement that caused this problem to be acknowledged and for there to be some acceptance and hat-in-hand apologies for the state they let the pension plan get into. It didn't happen overnight and yet it wasn't taken seriously until the state FORCED the city to deal with it.

Honestly, I have to wonder whether the city manager's office would have made an attempt to pay the entire actuarial recommended amount this year if the state had not forced their hand, and likely, if Gary Deaver hadn't been put on the board in 2006, I wonder if the Council would have known a thing about the deficit today.

The combination of Deaver's placement on the board and the state's demand that the full actuarial amount be paid, at least one out of five years, is what brought it to a head, not the city manager or the Council's concern, and that, my watchdog friend, is a cryin' shame.

There needs to be some acknowledgement of poor management. With acknowledgement and SINCERE apology, this sales tax, which seems to be government's only answer for fixing ANYTHING, would be a lot easier to swallow, at least for me.

Bottom line: Do you want the pension plan fully funded and healthy again or not? If you really, seriously want that, the handwriting's on the wall.

The pension plan is too important and too serious a problem to continue to play around with it. That said, it doesn't mean we have to like it and it doesn't mean we have to live with poor management of the city. That's what election days are for, I just don't favor bankrupting the city and making police and firefighters pay the price for the city's mess up just to prove a point.

Now, could there be other ways to deal with it besides imposition of a sales tax? Of course, but the city has no will to look at any other options or solutions to the problem. A sales tax is the easy answer.

I have some ideas, but no one cares. I'm sure you have some ideas too. Has anyone from the city asked you what creative ideas you have to solve the pension problem? Heh, I didn't think so.

They sure like public input when they want the public to have the IMPRESSION they were allowed to weigh in but in this case.....SALES TAX, and FULL SPEED AHEAD, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. No time to say hello, goodbye. I'm late, I'm late, I'M LATE!!!"

tom said...

I attended the meeting at the Busch Building.

If you go watch past council meetings Councilmen Griggs pointed this out numerous times only to be laughed at by the rest of the council, he was right and he knew he was right. The only problem he didn't have enough fortitude to keep talking about the issue so it died away not to be seen again until recently, except for members of the police and fire personnel.

The city and those managing the city are going to do what ever they want since the people aren't going to stand up and tell them we've had enough. The dismal turnouts to council meetings is proof of this.

More people should become aware of local politics and leave the national scene handle itself for awhile

Jackie Melton said...

I thought about Griggs too, Tom.

But, when did Griggs do his talking? I only remember him being on the news in 2007 about it, before that April's election.

Did he speak out about it from 2001-2006? That was the time period when there were no council members sitting on the pension board.

I agree with you that national politics should take a bit of a back seat for the time being, EXCEPT, it is important that people stay informed about the November election, too.

tom said...

Griggs actually mentioned the pending doom of the pension plan during some council meetings before '07. He warned that allowing to place unpaid vacation and sick leave and pay increases and those types of things while increasing the contribution onto the backs of the people into the pension plan would decrease the funding ratio. At one point I had some of these bookmarked so let me do some checking

Anonymous said...

I really thought Carlson's buddy Burris would wait until he actually had started his new job, then pretend to look at the numbers and the possibility of cutting staff, etc., and THEN propose raising Springfield's taxes...

On the other hand, a new tax will free up more money for a new parking garage or ice rink...

Momma Twoop said...

"They sure like public input when they want the public to have the IMPRESSION they were allowed to weigh in but in this case.....SALES TAX, and FULL SPEED AHEAD, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. No time to say hello, goodbye. I'm late, I'm late, I'M LATE!!!"

Egads! Is that an anti-city sentiment, a.k.a. "the truth"?!


Jackie Melton said...

In some circles, Momma Twoop, that comment might be viewed as "anti-City," I think. ;)

tom said...

and by some individuals

Anonymous said...

It is striking to read about the 'condemned' Mr. Burris. Sure, people are skeptical, bordering on cynical. Burris, however, will still receive his quarter million in compensation his very first year on the job. We will give him a chance. We have no choice. Maybe there's no need to open the spigot of our bleeding hearts for Mr. Burris just yet.