Raise sought for police, fire pension payments

jgaines@macon.comMay 2, 2013 

Two city councilmen want beneficiaries of the Macon Fire & Police Employees Retirement System to get a $100-per-month increase in their pensions.

Councilmen Ed DeFore and Charles Jones proposed a resolution that may be referred to Jones’ own Employee Development & Compensation Committee for discussion next week. It calls for all police and fire pension recipients to get the increase if the fund’s actuary, Chuck Carr, says it won’t seriously affect the plan’s funding level.

“If the actuary says it’s sound, I think we ought to try to give it to them the next month,” DeFore said.

The police and fire pension system is a replacement for Social Security benefits, not a supplement.

The $170 million investment fund has about 1,300 members, with about 400 of them currently drawing benefits, according to city documents. That indicates the increase would cost close to $500,000 per year.

Jones said no firm cost estimate has been made. That’s for the actuary to study, he said.

DeFore and Jones are running for seats on the consolidated Macon-Bibb County Commission. But both men say the proposal isn’t a bid for political favor; rather, it’s a continuation of what they’ve done for years.

“I’ve always been about benefits,” Jones said.

Likewise, DeFore said, he has sought to raise pension payments since first being elected in 1971.

“When I went on council, some of them weren’t getting but $28 or $30 per month,” he said.

In January 2012, City Council voted 13-0 to raise police and fire pensions by $100 per month. It went into effect, said DeFore, who also sponsored that resolution. But he “felt like it was time again” for an increase, he said.

Minimum benefits, received by officers’ widows and some of the oldest former officers, are still low, said Macon police Lt. Danny Thigpen, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“Some of them out there, they don’t draw but $500 a month, you know,” he said, adding that he and DeFore “sort of worked together” on the resolution.

Macon police Lt. Andra Grinstead, the pension board chairwoman, said the board hasn’t been formally approached about the idea but is aware of it.

“I know that it has been brought up in the past, and I think Councilman DeFore mentioned it a while back,” she said.

Grinstead said the increase should work to make up for the difference in what city and county retirees pay for health insurance.

Jones anticipates that when city and county governments merge in January 2014, the pension plan will be closed to new hires. That means the number of beneficiaries will peak, then start to shrink, he said. Before the plan closes is the best time to set higher benefits, Jones said.

“My motivation is to give them what we can while we can,” he said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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