FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Fixing a billion-dollar-plus retirement shortfall took center stage Thursday in Fort Worth as city leaders started working on a budget for next year.

The city is faced with running out of money to pay retirees if it doesn’t change something soon. The answer will likely cost taxpayers, cost employees and cost retirees.

How much it costs each group, is what city leaders have to figure out.

“The taxpayers and citizens of Fort Worth and our revenue wouldn’t allow us to take care of all of it,” said Mayor Betsy Price Thursday after the work session with council members.

Changes include more city contributions, more employee contributions, a minimum retirement age, and changes to cost of living adjustments. The last one could make the biggest difference, but is a sticking point for retirees.

A change proposed by the city manager could take an extra $2,000 a year, down to about $400 or even nothing for new retirees.

Council members looked at nearly 20 different variations on adjusting those numbers, in an effort to find funding but limit the impact to all sides.

In a letter to the council, the president of the firefighters association wrote, “Do not touch COLA (cost of living adjustment) for active or retirees. A promise is a promise.”

“I don’t think we’re going to get everybody happy with all of it,” said Price. “I’m not that naïve, and I don’t know we’ll get everybody at the table. But I do think we’re going to find a solution in Fort Worth without having to go to the legislature.”
The city wants something all sides can vote on by next month.

There was also a suggestion Thursday that all sides would agree to adjustments that would kick in automatically, if a few years down the road, the fix isn’t enough.

Unions representing city workers presented three different plans to city council. All three of those plans put the burden on city workers who are still employed— protecting benefits of workers who have already retired.

“You have to keep the promises that we made before you,” said retired librarian Carol Eicher. “we were told from the very beginning, stay with the city. They’ll take care of you when you retire.”

She retired from the City of Fort Worth back in 2001. Since then, she says her retirement benefits have slowly decreased, like the cost of living adjustments.

“I think one year I got $60 more a month. Well 60 dollars could cover a prescription,” said Eicher.

The current city council and mayor inherited this debt from previous administrations, but they are determined to solve it, fearing the state could step in. Additionally, the city’s credit rating has already been downgraded twice because of this unfunded debt.

“I don’t think that we are going to get everybody happy with all of it,” said Mayor Betsy Price. “I’m not that naive and I dont know if we will get everybody at the table, but I do think that we are going to find a solution here in Fort Worth without having to go to the legislature.”

City council is expected to vote on changes in mid-September. 

CBS11’s MaryAnn Martinez contributed to this report.