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Kirkwood Police & Firefighters Disagree On LAGERS

Voters to decide new retirement plan for city workers in April

Clinical Research Center
January 12, 2018
A peculiar division of opinion has emerged in the debate about shifting the city of Kirkwood's employee pension plans to the state-run LAGERS (Local Government Employees Retirement System).

The city's police officers and firefighters though they share a single retirement plan have taken opposite sides on the pension question. Firefighters have addressed the council opposing the change; police officers have been unanimously in favor of it.

The issue in any case will be decided by Kirkwood's voters. The council voted Jan. 4 to put the question on the April 3 ballot, in the form of a charter amendment. That is required because the police and fire pension fund was made part of the city charter by a 1987 initiative petition that created the funds and established taxes to support them.

The city's civilian employees' pension plan also would be transferred to LAGERS if the ballot measure to be listed as Proposition R passes.

The taxes funding the police and fire pension would continue unchanged if Proposition R were approved. However, money from the taxes would go to LAGERS, beginning May 1. City contributions to the current pension plan would cease.

Police officers and firefighters vested in the current plan would have the option of keeping their accumulated retirement money, currently managed by TIAA Financial Services, or transferring it to LAGERS. Transferred funds would be used to buy "years" of seniority in the LAGERS plan. Those not buying years of seniority would enter LAGERS just the same, starting over on the ground level.

That point is irksome to some firefighters who have addressed the council. They believe their TIAA accounts are doing very well, and that the funds contributed to their pensions by the city would earn a better return there than they will with LAGERS.

What's more, the decision is irreversible.

"LAGERS does not allow for do-overs," Fire Captain Charlie Dahm said. "Once you're in, you're in."

The control over investment decisions given by the voters to the trustees of the police and fire pension fund will be terminated, should the plan be entrusted to LAGERS, Dahm pointed out.

Seventy-eight percent of the city's firefighters signed a petition opposing the move to LAGERS, said Firefighter Duane Orr.

Police officers spoke with equal passion for the opposite point of view.

Sgt. Sean Conners, president of the Kirkwood Police Officers Association, said young officers are leaving the force for positions with other municipalities that offer better pension plans. Worse, older officers are postponing retirement to accumulate a few more years on their retirement plans, Conners said.

"We are really, really watching 62, 63, 64-year old officers work with us, when they should be enjoying themselves they should be retired," Conners said. "And I don't think the city of Kirkwood wants a 63-year-old man or woman fighting a shoplifter at Walmart who doesn't want to go back to jail."

Officer Cliff Pope, the senior man on the force with 37 years of service, confirmed that the present pension plan is inadequate for younger officers.

"I'm that 63-year old guy that Sgt. Conners mentioned chasing shoplifters down at Walmart. I got to tell you guys, I'm too old for that," Pope said. "But because of the pension, I have to stay longer."

Mayor Tim Griffin and several members of the council have argued that the city needs to join LAGERS to maintain its position as a top-tier destination for prospective employees. All three bills needed to put the pension measure on the ballot passed the council with at least five votes.

Council members Nancy Luetzow and Maggie Duwe voted against the first of the bills. Luetzow then moved to postpone the vote on the other two until the council's Jan. 18 meeting, as several firefighter spokesmen had requested.

"This is a pretty big decision, and I just want to get it right," Luetzow said.

Luetzow abstained on the votes on the second and third bills; Duwe voted in favor of both.

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