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Economy & Business

Board of Aldermen greenlights firefighter pension reform

Alderman Stephen Conway argues Friday for passing a comprehensive overhaul of the St. Louis's firefighter retirement system.

Mayor Francis Slay scored a decisive victory Friday in his months-long battle to rein in firefighter pension costs. In a 17 to 10 vote, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved major reforms to the department’s retirement system, cutting benefits, raising payments, and preventing full retirement until age 55.

Slay’s office estimates the changes will save the city $8 million a year in pension costs that have more than quadrupled in the last five years.

Mayor Slay’s Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford says the reforms are necessary and protect taxpayers. 

“It would have been a lot easier for politician to do all over the country, which is to give into special interests and sell out the tax payers," he said. "The mayor chose not to do that and a vast, overwhelming majority of aldermen chose not to do that.”

But Alderman Antonio French, who voted against the bill, says the fight is far from over.  “Eventually it looks like the courts are going to decide whether we can do it this way or not," he said. "But my personal feeling and the feeling of many down here is that this is not this how kind of change comes about.”

A lawsuit filed by the Firemen’s Retirement System of St. Louis argues the city does not have the authority to make the reforms. That suit is pending in court, with a partial ruling expected later this month.

Follow Joseph Leahy on Twitter: @JoeMikeLeahy

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