Time To Cap Pensions

Thursday, February 6, 2014

In response to the comments made in Ms. Lukachick’s article in Monday’s Chattanooga Times Free Press by Chief Willmore who is also the president of the Fire and Police Pension Fund - I find it laughable to suggest capping our pension at the highest paid fire captain’s rate (about $65,000) would only save the city $13,000 in annual contributions.  

At the last Pension Board meeting on Jan. 16 I asked the board about the possible savings and the answer, like all the others, was “We don’t know.” They could not and would not answer anyone’s questions. To my knowledge there has never been an actuarial study done to see what the Pension or city could save over 30-40 years because the Board does not want to cap it.  

My figures begin with information gained from the City Personnel Department and I merely applied the formula used to calculate our pensions. Exact figures can only be obtained from the Pension Board and they will not release them.  

The money the fund could save per year is staggering in itself. The difference in what the last fire chief retired at and what the most recent highest paid captain retired at is almost $40,000 per year and a difference of over $115,000 in their DROP. Personnel records show that Chief Parker was making $114,686 in 2009. Assuming he made at least that much in his final three years, his pension is a little over $83,000 a year to start. The captain’s highest three year average was about $64,883.41 resulting in a pension of about $44,607.34 per year.

Our DROP is based on our yearly pension thus making Chief Parker’s around $249,441.00 plus interest and the captain’s would have been around $133,822.00 plus interest. If our pensions were capped the fund could have saved over $155,000 in the first year of Chief Parker’s retirement benefit alone and over $40,000 every year for the rest of his life.  At present Chief Flint’s pension would be almost $22,000 more per year than the captain’s and almost $66,000 more on the DROP and he still has a few more years to work. His salary is sure to increase. It already has by 18.4 percent since 2011.  

The paper stated Police Chief Bobby Dodd’s final salary was $126,875.  If that was his three year average that would make his yearly pension about $87,226.56. If he had stayed for a DROP it would have been somewhere around $261,000 plus interest. We can’t blame these individuals for the pensions they draw. They are just playing by the rules, but the yearly savings on these three individuals alone is enough to show our pensions should be capped.   

The fire department has an administration full of chiefs making over $65,000 a year and several making over $90,000. Because some police lieutenants make as much or more than a battalion chief in the fire department I can’t begin to tell you how many in the police department make over $65,000. Since the changes made to the Pension Fund in 1999, the Fund could have saved upward of around $1 million in DROP money alone if it had been capped at that time at a captain’s rate. Just imagine what we could save in 30-40 years.   Cap it and save our COLA.

Chip O'Dell
Captain, Chattanooga Fire Department

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