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Government Council Report: Education program aimed at pension plan voters

Council Report: Education program aimed at pension plan voters

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Now that a pension plan is in place for the city of Fort Worth, pending a vote by the employees, it behooves city officials to educate those same employees as to what they will be voting on.

The Fort Worth City Council, at its Tuesday work session, received a report concerning this education program designed to ensure all employees are informed and engaged in the pension reform initiative. City staff is in the midst of executing a four-week citywide employee educational campaign.

“It’s just educating our employees. We’re not spending an exorbitant amount of money,” District 7 Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Shingleton said. “It’s gotten a great response, and we’re excited.”

First, a focus group of employees from all levels was assembled to review the effectiveness of the materials prior to the beginning of the campaign.

Beginning on Jan. 7 and continuing until Feb. 1, the campaign includes multiple meetings with employees and department heads, including meetings for Spanish speaking employees. It also includes special department meetings for Police and Fire at the Bob Bolen Safety Complex, along with handouts and an online information portal, http://fortworthtexas.gov/benefits/pension/.

Additionally, there is a pension email address, pension@fortworthtexas.gov, and phone number, 817-392-7737, available for employees to ask specific/personal questions and receive a response within a timely manner, generally within 24-48 hours.

Employees can meet in groups or individually if they request.

“They’re wrestling with what is the right thing to do,” Assistant City Manager Susan Alanis told the council.

If city employees do not vote in favor of the plan, it will likely be sent to the state legislature in Austin to make a decision on how to solve the dilemma of the city facing a $1.6 billion liability in the pension fund, which has the account on the path to insolvency in the next two or three decades.

“I would say the tone is generally more positive,” City Manager David Cooke said. “The belief is that solving it here is better than having anything go down to Austin.”

Cooke then stressed that “Not voting is a vote no.”

The plan still has to be approved via an election by participating members of the Fort Worth Employees Retirement Fund, who will vote to increase their contributions to the fund. The city’s (taxpayers) contribution increase is contingent upon a successful vote by the members to increase their contributions.

The employee vote is scheduled for Feb. 4-22. Alanis said if more meetings are needed during the voting period they can be held. Employees will be allowed to vote online by phone or by mail-in ballot.

The summary of changes in contributions includes:

*Increase in city’s contribution of an additional 4.5 percent of payroll contributed toward the pension.

*General employee contributions up 1.1 percent with an additional 0.7 percent each year for the number of years of credited service prior to Oct. 1, 2013

*Police and fire up 3.8 percent, with police to be phased in over three years and fire over two years.

*Police 25 years and out up 0.6 percent.

The changes in benefits include:

*Modification of the current 2 percent simple cost of living adjustment (COLA) for active members not yet retired or in deferred retirement option plans (DROP) within two years to a variable benefit based on fund performance (“grandfather” of active employees who retire or enter the DROP on or before Dec. 31, 2020).

*Elimination of service credit for future accruals of major medical and sick leave.

*Employee contributions will be based on city contributory payroll (includes overtime).

*Increase from a five-year DROP to a six-year DROP.

Employees have not previously contributed with their overtime pay.

There are no changes to the retiree COLA as the simple 2 percent will be retained.

The minimum retirement age of 55 now applies only to general employees hired since July 2011. It has been removed for fire and future service for general employees. Also, the additional DROP year is only available after July 20, 2019.

All vested terminations (employees who worked for more than five years, left, but kept their money in the system) refer to the variable COLA, unless they are drawing retirement by Jan. 1, 2021.

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