ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- A major reform of the St. Louis City Firefighters Retirement System is one vote away from being implemented. City Aldermen debated the proposal Friday for more than 90 minutes before giving it initial approval by a vote of 19 to 9. Fifteen votes were needed to place the bill on the third reading and final passage calendar. A final vote is expected on July 6.
Critics say the firefighters are not being treated fairly because they often accepted pension improvements instead of major pay raises. Proponents say existing firefighters will see no change in benefits; current firefighters will see modest changes from this point forward; newly hired firefighters would experience a more modest pension plan.
Legislation sponsor Alderman Craig Schmid (D) 20th Ward told other aldermen "We have a math problem when nearly three quarters of the pay of the fire department actives is what we contribute to the pension and benefit side of the ledger." Schmid fought off opponents who wanted to send the reform bill back to committee because Schmid entered a substitute proposal to clear up some legal language over when the new plan replaces the existing plan.
Critic Alderman Antonio French (D) 21st Ward warned the board was rushing into a vote since members had not been able to question anyone about the new version of the bill. "We're not sure what kind of fiscal impact that has so I believe it was irresponsible to pass it today," he said Friday.
St. Louis City Mayor Francis Slay has called for pension reform for some time. He says it will reduce costs and help finance police and firefighter jobs that otherwise will be cut.
The pension fund is currently short millions of dollars due to losses incurred in the stock market. Schmid warned the pension plan must be sustainable. "We don't want to keep asking taxpayers for more money for the pensions and then giving them fewer services and that's where we're at right now," he said.
Firefighters plan to take the measure to court.
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