Legislative saga over firefighter pensions should end on Friday | St. Louis Public Radio

Legislative saga over firefighter pensions should end on Friday

Jul 12, 2012

After five months of debate, major reforms to the pensions for firefighters in St. Louis City are about to become law.

Barring last-minute complications, the Board of Aldermen should vote tomorrow on the legislation, which is a priority of Mayor Francis Slay. It increases the retirement age for firefighters to 55, and makes changes to disability benefits. The mayor calls the reforms crucial to controlling the rising costs of pensions, which the city says have more than quadrupled in five years.

During more than two hours of debate on the measure late last month, Ald. Fred Wessels called it hard to vote for a measure that would alienate firefighters, who are a natural constituency in his south city ward.

"But if I'm going to be true to the voters, true to the citizens, true to the taxpayers, I've got to vote yes for this," he said." The citizens have lost services, because we continue to fund the pension systems in an inordinate fashion."

But in that same debate, Ald. Larry Arnowitz, an opponent of the changes,  reminded his colleagues they could have acted sooner bring costs under control.

"I mean, I could go back and say, shame on my predecessors who was here, and some still here, for voting for all the bills, giving the candy store away," Arnowitz said. "You know, one comment was made like it or not, we've created a monster."

The measure has more than enough votes to pass the board, and Mayor Slay is certain to sign it. But it faces a legal challenge from firefighters, who believe Slay does not have the authority to enact the changes.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann