City retirement system asking for 67 million dollars

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The City of Cincinnati's Retirement System is asking council to nearly double last year's retirement fund contribution for next year to help move the city back toward the black.

Currently, the City of Cincinnati has a projected retirement fund deficit of 728 million dollars over the next 30 years.

A representative with the City Administration says the city paid out just under 35 million dollars last year. The Retirement System's board is asking for 67 million in 2013. That amount translates to roughly 42 percent of payroll expenses while the city currently plans to contribute the equivalent of 24 percent.

Many retired employees believe the city should fork over the 67 million. They argue former employees have already increased their own health contributions since 2010 and that it is the city's obligation to get the fund back on track.

Some council members, however, say the General Fund budget can't handle paying out the 67 million dollars and that making up for those losses with general funds would likely mean cutting current city workers' jobs.

"This continues to add to how fast my pacemakers wear out," city retiree Barbara Olson said.

Monday Olson joined the other retirees and current city workers to listen to the pension report; a topic that has caused her not only frustration and anger, but also tears.

"They need to be with me when I have a medical procedure or when I'm trying to do something with grandchildren and can't afford to do it," Olson said. "Or just meeting our responsibilities and being decent citizens."

Olson worked for the city for 13 years before retiring on disability.

"We really calculated very closely what we needed to live on and how we could do it," Olson explained. "I was told the whole time I was working that this was concrete."

Like other retirees, Olson feels like the city is not holding up their end of the bargain.

"When times were good they didn't put the money in so now we have to pay for what they didn't do," Thomas Koch said.

Koch had to get another job to make up for the changes in his plan.

"You've got to have money to live on if you want to take your wife out to eat every once in a while," Koch said. "Taking three, four hundred dollars out of your paycheck every month, that's a lot of money."

"There are lots of needs and what we have to make sure is that the pension fund remains solvent," Councilwoman Roxanne Qualls acknowledged. "But in the midst of it we can't basically impoverish the rest of the city."

City council members say they are between a rock and a hard place.

"If we go on the side of taking money out of the General Fund people have to understand that means that is going to be a severe cut in services or a steep increase in income taxes," Yvette Simpson said. "But we also have to make sure we're doing right by the people that are retired."

The retirement board had anticipated investment returns at eight percent last year but only squeezed out less than one percent.

"I think any of my colleagues that have heard this presentation and are not in a panic are not hearing what is being presented here today," Councilman Chris Smitherman said during the meeting.

"We're still digging out of the hole," Qualls said. "When we don't perform at the level that we need to we fall further behind. It's a vicious cycle."

As a result of the report, the Retirement System is reducing the projected investment return from eight percent to 7.5 percent in future years.

The city is unable to change pension payment but can change healthcare contributions which they have done in the past. In 2010, the board says employees healthcare contributions increased from seven to nine percent.

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