Aldermen Pass Firefighter Pension Cuts — Despite Fears of Lawsuit
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ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–A plan to slash soaring pension costs for firefighters gains final passage in the Board of Aldermen — despite threats of a lawsuit from firefighters vowing to stop it.
“The faster we pass this, the faster they’ll sue us, and we’ll bring this to conclusion, and that’s in the best interest of taxpayers,” said Alderman Steve Conway.
The firefighter’s pension board of trustees is warning it will sue, because the bill would cut not only the benefits of future hires, but those of currently-serving firefighters.
Representing the trustees, attorney Dan Tobben says in similar pension-cutting battles around the country, the courts are striking down attempts to cut benefits for current employees.
“The vast majority of places have only attempted to reduce benefits for new hires,” Tobben said, “and not try to alter benefits for existing employees.”
Alderman Antonio French — among the ten who voted NO — says the city is blundering into a lawsuit that will end up costing taxpayers money.
“I think the judge is going to throw this out and we’ll find ourselves back here next year,” French said, “and we’ll have missed a year’s opportunity to save funding. In fact, it will cost city taxpayers probably a million dollars to fight this thing out.”
Among the 17 aldermen voting YES on the plan, Greg Carter, Chairman of the aldermanic public safety committee, says the bill has been modified to withstand a court challenge.
“The changes we made to this bill will suffice for this board bill to pass in court,” Carter said, “but the city needs to get its finances in order, and if we don’t try we’ll never know.”
A big backer of the bill, Mayor Slay is clicking his pen ready to sign it into law. One aldermen who voted YES, Tom Villa says he can see both sides, but he sided with the Mayor’s office, because he believes “the era of defined benefits is over.”
“If it were a high school debate class, I’d take either side of it and make a pretty good argument on why I think one would win and the other side would win,” Villa said.
In other action, the board gave final passage to the tax increment financing plan for the Cardinals Ballpark Village. That package provides $12 million in tax increment financing for the project, and approves the goal of seeking another $5 million in state funds for the restaurant and entertainment venue across from the ballpark.
With no air conditioning in the board chamber, aldermen ended the day with a sense of relief that they are now in adjournment until September 14th. Alderman Conway was overheard in the hallway crooning the refrain of the Alice Cooper song, “School’s Out for Summer.”