FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Facing $740 million in payouts it can’t afford Tuesday the Fort Worth City Council voted to make extensive changes. The majority of the monies are part of the financially troubled employee retirement fund.
The decision to make cuts/changes effectively put the council in a showdown with police. Fort Worth Police Officers Association president Steven Hall is threatening a lawsuit. “This will force the City of Fort Worth and the taxpayers of Fort Worth into a very costly legal battle.”
The police association voted to voluntarily hike employee contributions, but city administrators say that’s not enough. Hall said officers took positions with the department and entered into a retirement agreement in good faith.
“We advocate to a fair approach to both the citizens of Fort Worth and the officers that serve them,” he told the council. “A plan that honors the promises made to police officers who have contributed to this retirement fund from the day they were hired.”
Police officers crowded the council chambers as Mayor Betsy Price called for the vote. After voting to cut some pension benefits to head off the more than half a billion dollar unfunded liability Price said, “It’s not an easy decision. This is not a vote against police. This is not a vote against any of our employees. The city works hard to ensure public safety employees are among the best compensated in the state.”
The Police Officers Association also claims that the cuts are a violation of state law.
“Can the city constitutionally reduce vested employees benefits?” Hall asked. “The attorney general has issued an opinion on this matter and it is our interpretation, after consulting with a pension attorney, that the reduction would violate the Texas constitution.”
Council member Jungus Jordon expressed disappointment and joined colleagues who recognize the situation is volatile. “This is an issue that’s divided our city. I would like to see us come together and find a solution,” he said. “We find ourselves in a situation where we’re all gonna lawyer up and we’re gonna ask somebody else to make the decision for us.”
Mayor Price said keeping the retirement fund solvent is the most important thing and that, “Failing to watch this pension fund closely and to make adjustments threatens the retirement of countless city employees.”
When all was said and done council members voted 8-0-1 for approval. City Council member Kelly Allen Gray is the wife of a Fort Worth police officer, so she abstained from the vote.
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