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Battle of the Benefits set for Aug. 14

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

A commission divided will discuss and debate on Aug. 14 whether to add two employee benefits back into the contract with its General Employees. Last month, Commissioner Phill Younger and Vice Mayor David Brenner voted against both the Deferred Retired Option Program (DROP) and an early retirement option. DROP employees essentially retire and yet continue to work for the town with their monthly pension checks placed in an interest bearing account. They do not accrue additional benefits while under the DROP program.

Four commissioners including Jack Duncan, Mayor Jim Brown, Terry Gans and Pat Zunz supported both additional benefits with the sentiment that it was a matter of fairness and a promise kept.

Earlier in the year, the Fire Department employees were granted both benefits when they negotiated to be placed in the Florida Retirement System, thereby capping the town’s exposure to any increases in the pension’s unfunded liability. The police have also been offered early retirement and the DROP program.

Duncan has said it is a matter of good management and fairness, and the town should be very proud that it capped future pension costs but it should not continue to downgrade pay and benefits while other classes of employees get to enjoy them.

The majority who supported the two programs last month will face an additional challenge in Commissioner Lynn Larson who has stated she is adamantly opposed to granting any additional benefits and cost to taxpayers.

At the July 1 regular commission meeting, commissioners instructed Town Manager David Bullock to bring back language to support the DROP and early retirement as well as to bring back the cost to add these benefits to the employee’s compensation package.

Commissioner Phill Younger argued against the additional benefits with Younger citing the never-ending escalating costs of funding the pensions. Town Manager Dave Bullock said the DROP option will cost town taxpayers $35,000 a year for 25 years, or $875,000 over the next 25 years.

“Making changes to pension plans is very painful,” said Commissioner Phill Younger. “Continuing the DROP continues the hemorrhaging.”

Duncan has made it clear he is not philosophically a proponent of DROP, “But in the private sector we never took away what was promised to them. We have employees where this expectation is in place. Also, we are offering this to other employees. I cannot live with that disparity — we can afford this,” said Duncan.

 

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