Ahead of next week’s vote on fixing the city’s troubled pension system, the Fort Worth Police Officers Association began its social push Monday by putting out video urging the City Council not to cut retiree benefits.
The minute-long video, paid for by the association, features excerpts from public comments made during a council meeting in recent weeks.
“Integrity is keeping a commitment, even after circumstances have changed,” Bridgette Garrett, the wife of a retired firefighter, can be seen in the video telling the council. “We repaired your streets. Emptied your trash. Answered your phones. Typed your letters. Ran into burning buildings. Arrested your criminals. Maintained your parks. Negotiated your deals. Balanced your budgets. Repaired your computers, prepared your council packages. All of which helped the city of Fort Worth to be named an All-American and most livable city.”
At the end of the video, viewers are asked to “tell the Fort Worth mayor and council that a promise made should be a promise kept” and are provided a phone number to the mayor’s office.
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Cpl. Tracey Knight, a POA representative, said while the association is spearheading and paying for the campaign, “we are advocating for all city of Fort Worth employees, both current and retired.”
“This issue affects all employees and the health of our city. It’s bigger than one department,” she said.
If nothing is done to address the $1.6 billion projected shortfall, the Fort Worth Employee’s Retirement Fund could run out of money by 2048.
On Friday, Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke showed the City Council’s latest proposal that had the city kicking in more money.
The proposal would increase the city’s contribution from $92 million to $110.7 million annually and preserve the cost of living adjustment (also known as a COLA) for retirees. But it would cut the COLA from 2 percent to 1 percent.
Meanwhile, employees would see their contributions increase from $37 million annually to about $50 million annually. Police and firefighters contribute at a higher rate than general employees.
But it isn’t as simple as the City Council giving police and firefighters what they want — the city’s general employees — many of whom won’t receive a COLA — must also vote in favor the plan. A majority of all employees — not just those who vote — must approve the pension fix.
The city has 4,009 general employees with 2,082 hired since 2011. There are 1,710 police officers and 924 firefighters.
Last week, Glenn Balog, who represented general employees on the city’s pension task force expressed doubt about getting them to vote in favor of such a plan.
“Over 2,000 general employees have no COLA at all, “ Balog said last week. “I just don’t see how you would get that vote.”
Knight said they “are simply asking for a fair sharing of the fix” between employees and the city.
“We have been offering for years to contribute more and fully expect to do so,” she said. “With an equitable plan put forward that we can support, the POA will put in the time, money and sweat equity to inform all city employees and advocate for a fair solution.”
She said it doesn’t make sense that the city is experiencing major growth in revenue from businesses, tourists and expansion. yet could cut benefits for those already retired while voting to give a pay raise to City Manager David Cooke.
She said because city retirees do not get social security or healthcare, cutting their benefits can have a detrimental impact.
“Most retirees cannot affect their income due to age and health so they are dependent on the benefit they already paid into for 30-plus years to simply pay their bills and healthcare,” Knight said.
The City Council is set to vote on a pension solution on Sept. 18.
The police officers association has prepared two other videos on the issue, but they are not currently slated for release.
Those videos feature retired Fort Worth officers Angela Jay and Johnny Bell, who were both shot during their police careers.
Jay was shot three times in July 1995 after responding with another officer to a report of shots fired at a south Fort Worth apartment complex. Before turning his gun on Jay, officials say John L. Wheat had shot and killed three children — ages 8, 6, and 20-months-old — and shot three adults, all of whom survived their injuries. Wheat was convicted of capital murder in the youngest child’s death in 1997 and executed in 2001.
Bell was shot three times in January 2013 by a wanted man who had been hiding in a vehicle at a Haltom City auto shop. He returned fire, killing the gunman.
As a result of his injuries, Bell lost vision in one eye and one of his fingers.
“We hope to come to a solution quickly and not release them at all, however, we have a full campaign paid for and will move forward if we must,” Knight said.