Politics & Government

Fraternal Order of Police fears Macon-Bibb retirement incentives will bankrupt pension

The leadership of the local Fraternal Order of Police is warning of dire consequences if too many Macon-Bibb County workers accept retirement incentives.

“This is the worst thing I can honestly tell you I’ve seen,” said Danny Thigpin, president of FOP Lodge No. 3. “They are balancing the budget on our pension, and they know it.”

Discussing the dilemma with FOP Vice President Richard Kory over coffee Friday morning, Thigpin said he wished he had waited another year to retire.

The former Macon police officer who also worked at the fire department 18 months, retired from the consolidated Bibb County Sheriff’s Office last year.

After 41 years of service, Thigpin receives 70 percent of his salary, which had been the pension cap for vested police and firefighters based on a multiplier of 2 percent.

Workers are compensated 2 percent of their salary for every year worked.

Under the limited incentives being offered, the multiplier increases to 2.5 percent with a cap of 90 percent for former police, who were already vested in the old pension fund, and firefighters.

Other Macon-Bibb workers’ pensions would be calculated with a 2.25 percent multiplier and no pension cap.

That means a few members of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office could retire making nearly as much as if they stayed on the force.

“This is a nightmare,” Thigpin said. “I think they know it, but I think they are playing Russian roulette with our pension. What happens if something happens in the stock market?”

Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore dismissed the risk.

“We’re not going to deplete our pension plan,” Floore said. “It will change what we have to put in, but we’re well funded. Our pensions are funded well above what other pensions are.”

Kory said current police and fire retirees also collect less Social Security benefits because the city stopped paying into that fund once the pension was set up.

In his case, Kory only gets 40 percent of Social Security he could have received. He retired in 2006 after 25 years and receives half his salary.

He remembers the 7 percent taken from his pay check before the city started funding the pension. Now others hired later who did not have to pitch in are reaping greater rewards.

"A person that I trained is probably going to go out with 65 to 70 percent," he said.

The sign over the door of the W.L. "Sparky" O'Cain Lodge #3 reads: "Old police never die, they just fade away."

"It's like when you retire from our system, it's like he's dead. He's not there anymore," said Thigpin. "The guys that have already retired, it's their money, too."

Several years ago, Macon City Council approved an extra $100 a month for retirees to offset the loss of Social Security and to help cover insurance costs

Under the incentive, that amount bumps up to $200 for those eligible to retire between July and the end of September.

“If you’re making 90 percent and you’re making an extra $200 a month, it will amount to about 95 percent,” Kory said. “They’re going to bankrupt the pension.”

Under the new incentive, sheriff’s office employees retiring under the age of 65 would get $200 a month, but would see a jump to $388 monthly when they hit 65.

Thigpin said the incentives, which also cut two years off the retirement age and required years of service, will be too good to pass up.

“If it were me and I didn’t go, somebody would need to take me to the psych ward,” Thigpin said.

The FOP leadership also worries what will happen if the top echelon in public safety leaves this summer.

“You think crime is bad now. You just wait,” he said.

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis said he has about 50 workers who would be eligible, and he expects 20 to 30 to retire.

“Each person has to look at where they are in their life,” Davis said. “It’s a very attractive offer.”

Davis said he thinks the department could absorb the loss of high-ranking deputies as it did in 2001 when the county offered retirement incentives.

“If an organization is not vibrant enough to withstand things like this, then it was sick in the first place,” he said. “Now we might cough a time or two. ... We’ll have to make some adjustments.”

Davis said the sheriff’s office actually might run more efficiently in a restructuring that would reduce command staff, which is a conglomerate of former Macon police officers and legacy deputies.

Macon-Bibb Fire Chief Marvin Riggins also expects a number of his high-ranking firefighters to accept the retirement incentive.

“It could take some of our most experienced people,” Riggins said. “I know that’s going to happen, but normally it doesn’t happen all at once.”

Riggins said the department’s training program has prepared younger firefighters to fill their boots.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.