St. Louis Firefighter’s Pension Trustees Suing Over Approved Reform

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- There was major movement Tuesday in the fight over reform to the city firefighter's pensions. We have a vote and a lawsuit.

This pension fight's because the city claims the fire department's pension system will bankrupt the city. The city wants changes. After months of debate, an aldermanic committee agreed Tuesday afternoon. But then there's the issue of a lawsuit that's been filed to scuttle the whole thing.

The city has long claimed that rising fire pension costs could bankrupt the city with costs rising 500 percent in the last decade.

“We are on a path where one day we're not going to have a fire department,” said Mayor Slay’s Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford. “All the money's going to be going into the fireman's retirement system and it’s not just here. I read somewhere where the Chicago police pension fund, if they don't do something and they have to, is going to be out of money within 5 years.”

So the so-called reform plan gives pension control to the city, not the state. It slashes pensions for newly-hired firefighters. It makes it much harder for firefighters to retire with full disability pensions. And the trustees of the firefighter’s retirement fund have sued saying the whole thing is illegal because the city didn't get state approval.

“The entire procedure that's established currently requires the city to get enabling legislation in Jefferson City, and pass identical legislation back here in St. Louis,” said Bruce Williams, Trustee of the firefighter’s retirement fund. “That's the way the system's worked for 50 years and it hasn't been a problem up until now.”

Despite that lawsuit, the board of alderman's public safety committee after 9 months of debate finally approved the pension changes Tuesday afternoon. Not everyone's pleased with the changes, especially to disability pensions.

“The legislation we just passed is going to have a harmful effect for those folks who've really given a lot for this city,” said 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French. “And to limit the cola, the cost of living increase, for those folks who end up paralyzed or unable to sustain themselves or their family because they were in service to the citizens of the city of St. Louis is wrong.”

A final board of aldermen vote is expected next week. All that presupposes is that a judge doesn't declare the entire thing illegal. Stay tuned.

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