Metro to look at changes to pension plan - WSMV Channel 4

Metro to look at changes to pension plan

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Metro Nashville's government has been under tremendous financial pressure for years now.

This year, many departments had to make 3 percent cuts.

For the first time, the city is looking at making changes to one of the biggest items in the budget - worker pensions.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has appointed a Blue Ribbon committee to look at benefits for Metro workers.

Even Metro's top money man admits that the city's guaranteed pension plan may not be fair to the taxpayers who fund it.

Metro cut debris pickup from four times a year to three times a year, and residents complain about rats and other vermin while brush piles sit for weeks.

Library hours are cut across the city to save money.

This is just a couple of quick examples of services lost during tight budget years.

But while Metro trims or freezes its services to you, the costs of retirement skyrocket.

Right now, Metro Nashville pays 15 percent of everyone's salary just to meet its guaranteed retirement.

That's not enough. A recent audit reveals Metro must pay 19 percent extra per employee just to meet retirement.

"These are tough times. City revenues are not growing," said Metro Finance Director Rich Reibeling. "We need to be realistic."

Reibeling admits Metro's pension program needs to be reviewed.

Ben Cunningham of Tennessee Tax Revolt said the answer is simple: Stop promising a guaranteed retirement and let Metro workers help fund their own retirement with a 401(k).

"You really have two classes of citizens now," said Cunningham. "You have government employees that have a really nice pension plan and don't have to worry about the stock market going down. On the other hand, you have the taxpayers who have to fund their own retirement.

"If we are going to be fair to taxpayers, we have to have government employees use the same rules when it comes to pensions."

Here's another reason to worry. Metro has calculated all of its future retirement payout based on making an 8 percent profit per year in the stock market.

In the last three years, the retirement funds have lost $700 million, not through mismanagement but just the nature of the stock market.

"You need to have a good system of benefits, but a system the city can afford long-term," said Reibeling. "It just comes a time from a financial standpoint where you have to take a really hard look at this stuff."

That hard look is happening now. If anything changed, it would not affect any current employees. Until the early 1980s, Metro employees did contribute to their own retirement.

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