St. Louis Aldermen return accountability to fire fighters for their retirement plans

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CLOSE CALL – Local 73 fire fighters leap off a loading dock just as a fireball erupts from a burning building. A plan approved by the St. Louis Board of Alderman Feb. 16 would return oversight of the fire fighter pension system to fire fighters’ control. – William Greenblatt/St. Louis Fire Department photo

By SHERI GASSAWAY
Assistant Editor

By  a veto proof majority, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen has approved a plan to return oversight of all fire fighters’ pensions to a board led by fire fighters.

Eleven members of the 14-member board voted Feb. 16 in favor of the plan, securing one more vote than needed to overcome a promised veto from Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, who vetoed a similar plan last year saying that it would lead to increased costs for taxpayers.

Fire fighters currently have two separate pension plans – one called FRS, which is for employees with more than 20 years of service and governed by a board primarily made up by fire fighters. The other plan, called FRP, covers new employees and those with fewer than 20 years of service as of 2013. The FRP pension fund has been governed by a separate board led primarily by city officials, and offers less accountability to the fire fighters.

“We’re the only group in the country of employees covered by two separate pension plans governed by two separate groups,” said Dan Clark, president of Fire Fighters Local 73, the union representing St. Louis fire fighters. “This new bill will have the board that governs the FRS govern the FRP plan, too. It means we’ll have more control and accountability on investments and strategies.”

The move reverses a change to the pension system adopted years ago to cut down on costs. Prior to the vote, Jones said she was “standing firmly” against the new bill and that “eliminating the city’s control over these costs will have drastic consequences for our budget.”

SECURE RETIREMENT SYSTEMS
Fire fighters say that the changes will help secure their retirement systems by saving on administrative costs and providing better opportunities to diversify investments.  Fire fighters are quick to note that there are no changes to their benefits, and that changes can only be made locally through the Board of Aldermen.

Alderman Bret Narayan, of Dogtown, filed the bill and told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the meeting that the measure was an attempt to give workers more of a voice in their own retirement.

“Today was a win for the working people of the city of St. Louis,” he told the Post.


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