Council members introduce motion to save city's pension

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Council members Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn have introduced a motion to issue  $400 million of pension obligation bonds to save the city's pension fund.

Smitherman says that city council under funded the pension fund by $27 million for 2012, and altogether the fund is in the hole $1 billion.

This is the latest in a long line of efforts to ensure that the city will be able to keep promises it made to thousands of workers.

Smitherman called this issue the elephant in the room at City Council, and if that's the case, this particular elephant has seen several councils come and go.

"There's a $1 billion shortfall and City Council needs to infuse cash into the pension in order to shore it up so that current employees who are paying into the system and those who have already retired are assured that their pension is solvent, and right now it's not," said Smitherman.

Tom Gamel retired from the city in 2003, but he has no less work.

"In a week's time, I get hundreds of phone calls and emails with questions regarding our retirement system," said Gamel.

As President of the Cincinnati Municipal Employees Retirement Association, Gamel says thousands of people are struggling.  While actual pension amounts cannot be lowered to retirees, health care contributions can, and have.

"Some retirees have been turned away from their physicians office because they have not paid the co-pays that the city has now imposed on the retiree," said Gamel.

Gamel says what employees got when they retired wasn't negotiable.  But some have criticized them for having a "Cadillac" plan.  Gamel says it's all most of the retirees have, and sometimes it is just not enough.

Smitherman says council is obligated to fund the pension system.  Failing to do that would be devastating to the city's financial standing and the very people who worked for decades. People like Gamel, who worked for 32 years for the city and now would like to retire from managing his retirement.

"It's not fair, it's not right, I think it's legally wrong, we're fighting it in court, and it's morally wrong what they're doing to the retirees who are former employees," said Smitherman.

Smitherman says previous councils started investing money in the stock market rather than put it into the pension fund. Which worked well until the market crashed and $580 million was lost. Smitherman tells FOX19 one way or another council has to start making the contributions it promised.

The motion introduced Wednesday was referred to the Budget and Finance Committee, which meets on Monday.

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