City Taxpayers Paying Legal Bills From Firefighter’s Pension Battle

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- The city board of aldermen will probably vote on Friday to approve Mayor Francis Slay's controversial changes to the firefighter’s pension system. The pension board is set to challenge it in court.

City hall says without cuts to the firefighter's pension system, taxpayers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. But both the city and the firefighters pension fund are using expensive outside law firms to slug this out. And city taxpayers are paying all the lawyers for both sides.

Under Mayor Slay's plan, the city would take over firefighter’s pensions from the state. Benefits would be cut for new firefighters. It'd be tougher for current firefighters to retire with full disability pensions. Without the reforms, the city hall says city taxpayers will be hammered.

 “The city's on track to spend one billion dollars, with a "B" in the next 10 years of their tax money on pensions, $1.5 billion,” stated Jeff Rainford, Mayor Slay’s chief of staff.

But the firefighter’s pension fund and their allies say the city can't legally take over the pension system from the state and are ready to go to court.

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said, “We stand a real high probability of losing a major lawsuit in court again. What's that mean to taxpayers? It means they end up picking up the tab at the end of the day.”

But city taxpayers are already paying. The firefighter's pension fund has hired the Clayton Law Firm of Danna-Mc Kitrick. The city's hired the downtown mega firm Thiompson-Coburn. And city taxpayers are footing the legal bills for both of them. Before this even goes to a full-blown lawsuit the legal bills to beleaguered city taxpayers are pretty steep.

“We've spent in the past two years somewhere in the neighborhood of 300-thousand,” said Rainford.

But that figure's a subject of some dispute.

Right now we've spent around $459,000 is what we've been told on the city's side for the city's attorneys so far for outside counsel, and about $300,000 is what the meter has run on the pension board's side. So we're at $760,000, three quarters of a million dollars and taxpayers are paying for all of it? Yes,” stated Reed.

But that taxpayer legal bill will be a lot higher, into the millions, once litigation actually starts. The board of aldermen are scheduled to vote Friday morning on the pension reform package. And the entire matter will be ending up in court.

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