DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – After eight years as a Dallas firefighter, Jeff Patterson told the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund Board that he and his colleagues are not asking for a lot.READ MORE: 19-Year-Old Tello Hernandez Faces Intoxication Manslaughter Charge Following Fatal Crash
“All we’re asking for is a fair pension now,” said Patterson.
In May 2014, Patterson was seriously injured battling a house fire in the Fair Park area.
When a roof caved in on him while he was inside the dining room, he received third degree burns on more than 40 percent of his body, including his arms, chest and back.
He was in a medically-induced coma for six weeks, and spent three-and-a-half months recovering in Parkland Hospital’s burn unit.
“I gave my pound of flesh.,” said Patterson. “Those five officers who were murdered in July, they gave their pound of flesh. Other guys have given their pound of flesh over the years.”
He said he is encouraged after the pension board voted during a special meeting Monday morning to support a plan proposed by Republican State Representative Dan Flynn of Canton to save the pension fund.
Without any changes, the fund may run out of money within ten years.
The proposal by Flynn, the Chairman of the Texas House Pension Committee, would raise the retirement age from either 51 or 55 to 58, eliminate cost of living adjustments for 20 years and lower a multiplier used to determine the pension for police officers and firefighters from 3 percent to 2.5 percent.
As Chairman of the House Pension Committee, Flynn will oversee the bill and help move it through the legislative process so it can be approved by lawmakers in both chambers before their session ends in late May.
Police, firefighters and pension board members all say they want to work with Flynn to lower the retirement age to 55 and make other changes.
Flynn’s plan would also change the way the more than 10,000 people in the police and fire pension fund would receive their pensions.
It would amortize their pension payments based on life expectancy, estimated to be 78 years of age.
So for example, if the person is 50 years old, he or she would receive their pension payments over a 28-year period.
That would help stabilize the fund.
But some police officers and firefighters don’t like this provision because studies have shown their life expectancy is at just 66 years of age.
While pension board members held their special meeting Monday, Mayor Mike Rawlings was in Austin meeting with Rep. Flynn.
Back in Dallas Monday afternoon, the Mayor responded to the pension board’s vote. “Having some sort of movement is a positive thing,” he said.
Rep. Flynn’s plan would require the city to contribute an extra $22 million each year into the fund.
One thing it would not do is require the approximate 1,000 officers and firefighters who receive the Defined Retirement Option Plan or DROP to pay back the guaranteed eight percent interest they received for years.
Police, firefighters and the pension board believe the provision, also known as a “clawback,” violates the law.
If the DROP recipients have the money in their account, it would be removed and if they don’t have the money anymore, they would have to re-pay it fully.
One retiree told the pension board, “This money isn’t for you. This is my money. It’s mine. Not yours.”
The pension board decided against using the plan proposed by Mayor Mike Rawlings and the city of Dallas, which also called for about $3.5 billion in higher contributions and steeper benefits cuts over a 30-year period.
But even in his second plan, the Mayor increased the amount of money the city would give to the fund, from an extra $11 million each year to and additional $18 million each year.READ MORE: Homeowner Terry Duane Turner Charged In Slaying Of Motorist Adil Dghoughi In His Driveway
Mayor Rawlings said, “The taxpayers are going to have to spend more money and taxpayers need to be represented in this because it’s going to hurt library hours, streets and the staff at city hall.”
The Mayor has also insisted the pension fund troubles will not lead to higher property taxes, and pension board member and city councilman Philip Kingston agreed.
He said when they have a final solution, they will have a message for taxpayers: “We’re going to ask you for more money, but we’re not wasting it. It’s not going into bucket with a hole in the bottom. We’re fixing the bucket.”
Kingston says while he doesn’t like Rep. Flynn’s plan, it is the best option to serve as a starting point.
In an effort to save the pension fund, the Mayor filed suit against the pension board to stop large withdrawals from DROP.
Some police and firefighters blame the Mayor’s comments for leading some retirees to withdraw large sums of their money in the first place.
During Monday’s meeting, police and firefighters continued their sharp attacks on the Mayor.
Dale Erves, who retired after serving 32 years in the Dallas Police Department told the pension board, “Do not follow Mike Rawlings. He’s not a leader. He’s embarrassed the city. Poor leadership.”
Jill Muncy, who retired after 25 years with DPD, including the last eight as a deputy chief, told the board, “When I saw the Mayor on the news handing out flowers to refugees, give me an f’ing break, He is crapping on his own city employees.”
The room burst into applause.
When asked about the criticism, and if he believes some police officers and firefighters hate him, Mayor Rawlings said, “I don’t blame them for hating me. I understand that. They spent their lives doing this and they made decisions based on representations of that board that were wrong. The board lied to them. They made personal decisions and that’s a terrible thing. If they want to take it out on me, that’s ok.”
But police officers and firefighters say the board didn’t lie to them.
They say the city promised to pay them a good pension to make up for the relatively low pay when compared to other cities.
That’s why the DROP plan was developed: It guaranteed the eight percent interest rate even during down years.
The pension board says that is the main reason the fund could become insolvent within ten years.
While the pension fund would be fully funded in 30 years under the Mayor’s plan, that’s not the case with the plan developed by Rep. Flynn.
The pension fund board says Flynn’s plan is up to $600 million short and would be fully funded between 40 and 53 years.
But the chairman of the pension board, Sam Friar, said Flynn’s plan would save the fund. “A huge leap from where we are now. So we’re happy with that. We just want it to be solvent. This would get us far more than solvent.”
Pension board members acknowledged they will need another funding source, and Kingston said he plans to discuss that with Rep. Flynn this week.
The Mayor said he will speak with Flynn Tuesday. “I’ve got to make sure it takes care of the current police and firefighters and those will come after so they have a great retirement plan. That’s what I’m focused on.”
The Mayor is also hoping the legislature will address an issue not covered by Rep. Flynn’s plan: the decades-old lawsuit filed by some police officers and firefighters against the city over backpay.
Asked if he’s ok with that, Rawlings said, “No, I’m not. That is something the legislature is going to have to work out in this session.”
After years of delays, the case will go to trial this spring, and Mayor Rawlings has said for months, if the city were to lose in court, it could cost the city up to $4 billion and lead to bankruptcy.
Jeff Patterson, the firefighter who is back on the job, said what many others still hope for: “We want to know the city has our back.”MORE NEWS: Dallas Neighborhood Crime Spike Has Many Questioning, 'Is Uptown Going Downhill?'
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