The Fort Worth City Council thought they were going to vote on the future of the city’s pension plan at their Nov. 13 meeting. However, facing opposition from several groups, the council decided to continue to talk about how to move forward with the plan.
No solution has been reached in solving the city’s problem of a $1.6 billion liability in the pension fund.
And Tuesday night, with the latest proposal from City Manager David Cooke before them, the council voted to table a vote until the Dec. 11 meeting. In the meantime, Mayor Betsy Price said even if it means locking the door and no one leaves until a settlement is reached, it is imperative that all sides come together in unison before that meeting.
“I hope we will have some help from out union groups to get this where we want to go,” Price said.
The fund is scheduled to run out of money by between 2040 and 2050 without significant changes, city officials said. There are many reasons for the deficit, but the main dilemma facing the city is it simply has to be fixed.
Of course, doing so has been anything but simple. Several plans have been put forward, and so far the city’s powers-that-be can’t come to an agreement.
“There has been significant progress to a point, but in recent weeks we’ve just hit an impasse, and I understand the impasse,” District 7 Councilman Dennis Shingleton said. “But we have to fix this as a city. We can’t let it go to Austin.”
If no solution can be reached, the state legislature will step in and solve the problem. City officials have said they do not want that to happen, largely because it would likely mean the dismissal of an annual cost of living adjustment (COLA).
The COLA appears to be the major point of contention among the various parties trying to hammer out an agreement.
Price said after the state legislature settled the problem in Dallas, they lost their COLA. She said there is a long waiting list of police officers from Dallas who now want to come to work in Fort Worth.
Price and the city council have made progress over the past several years, increasing city contributions and appropriately changing the benefit structure for new employees and existing employees from that point forward. These changes, however, have not been enough to pay for the benefits accrued prior to those changes.
The challenge is the benefits that were given over the years without sufficient contributions, and the retirement fund not achieving projected investment returns.
“We’re talking about Social Security for our employees. We’re talking about the equivalent of Social Security,” District 4 Councilman Cary Moon said.
Fort Worth city employees don’t pay into the Social Security system, instead banking in the pension fund.
District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said, “We’re that close, and we need to figure out how to get there. But what we don’t need to be is in Austin.”
District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens added that she was in favor of tabling, saying, “I just don’t feel good right now.”
Shingleton, who also settled on offering to table, said it’s about solvency down the road.
“We just trying as a team to keep this city solvent,” he said.
Brian Byrd, District 3 Councilman, was not in favor of tabling. He also said he will not support any more financial input from the city beyond the currently proposed 4.5 percent contributions.
“I will vote against anything above 4.5 percent. We can’t ask our taxpayers to do any more than that,” he said, noting that suggested city contributions began at 2 percent.
However, Byrd also does not want the problem to be solved in Austin.
“The folks in Austin will not look favorably on us anytime there is legislation that will help Tarrant County,” he said.