New St. Louis fire department proposal increases minimum retirement age, but no layoffs

Dec 15, 2010

The City of St. Louis announced a proposal to reduce Fire Department expenditures today, but it did not include any layoffs.

The Firemen's Retirement System (FRS) currently provides one of the best emergency services retirement plans in the country - but that's not without a huge cost to taxpayers.

Some facts about the plan contained in the city's press release:

  • The fire department budget has gone up by more than 40% in the last decade.

  • Firefighter pay, health care, and pension costs have gone up by 73%. For every dollar taxpayers spend for a firefighter’s salary, taxpayers pay another 82 cents for firefighter fringe benefits, far more than private sector benefits.

  • St. Louis firefighters can retire with partial pensions as young as 38 years old. They can retire with full pensions as young as 48 years old.

  • Injured firefighters get full disability pensions even if they are capable of doing other work. Firefighters get two weeks of sick pay each per year. When they don’t use it, they can save it up and get big checks and bigger pensions when they retire. (The City is trying to end sick leave buy-back, which is the subject of a lawsuit filed by FRS.)

So what does the proposal, well, propose? From the release:

  • Increasing the minimum number of years before a firefighter can retire from 20 to 25.
  • For each year a firefighter works after 25 years, the value of their pension goes up. The City is proposing to reduce the annual increase slightly. It would have the effect of requiring firefighters to work a few years more to get the same pension.
  • Set the minimum age at which a retired firefighter can begin to collect a pension at 55 years old.
  • Accepting a proposal from the International Association of Fire Fighters Local #73 that would require firefighters who are no longer able to physically do the job as a firefighter to do other work if they are able, rather than collect disability pensions.
  • Requiring firefighter pension contributions to remain in the system when firefighters retire. Like many Americans who have pensions, the firefighters pay into their system. But, unlike most pensioners, they get the full contributions back when they leave the department.
  • Changing the basis of pension calculations from the last two years of salary to the last three years of salary.  That would put firefighter pensions more in line with public pensions across the country.
  • These proposed changes would be from now on only. No accumulated benefits would be cut.

The Missouri General Assembly will have to approve any changes to the FRS, and all indications are that lawmakers won't change the plan if firefighters show opposition.

The fire department is also operating under a $3 million deficit in its current budget.