IF NOT CUTTING PENSIONS, WHAT IS THE ANSWER TO ATLANTA’S FINANCIAL DILEMMA?

If comments posted on this site are any indication, the majority of readers of the Ramage Report are fiercely opposed to Mayor Kasim Reed’s plan to cut City of Atlanta employee pensions.

They feel that a contract is a contract and they came to work for the city under certain assurances, not the least of which was that the pay is not great, but the pension isn’t bad. Now they are threatened with reduced retirement income, even after years of making sure that a portion of their paychecks was put toward their later years.

The mayor, however, says the city cannot afford to continue paying out pensions at its current rate. It will go broke, he says, unless something is done. He has invited anyone with a better idea for saving the city some money to bring it forward.

So, now’s our chance.

I’ll start: Work with surrounding governments and the state to form a metro-area-wide police and fire agency. Fewer than half a million taxpayers fund the City of Atlanta’s police and fire services and yet, everyday, 1.5 million people come into the city to work and play. While they’re here, they get their laptops stolen or their cell phones boosted, or they have heart attacks or crash their cars.

My tentatively named Atlanta Metropolitan Public Safety (AMPS) would address that imbalance. Why not make sure that those who benefit from the services are paying for them? It also enhances crime fighting by knocking down jurisdictional walls that help hide perpetrators.

How big should it be? Sharper minds than mine need to figure that out. Some say all of Fulton County should be in the metro-area public safety district, while others (like me) think that the area inside the Perimeter might be right, because it has a clear and distinct boundary.  

The downside is that this is not a quick fix. It could take more than a decade to set up the metro police and fire authority. But we’d still get it finished before the Beltline.

What are your ideas? If you can think of a better way than cutting pensions to bolster the city’s budget, please share it in the comments section below. SR

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5 Responses to IF NOT CUTTING PENSIONS, WHAT IS THE ANSWER TO ATLANTA’S FINANCIAL DILEMMA?

  1. bill says:

    Okay, here goes. I do not believe the numbers that City Hall pushes out. The police pension is 63% funded, with the standard rate for funding to be estimated to be 80% to be healthy. These figures are grossly inaccurate because it assumes that everyone on the Department right now will be staying 30 years. What is the turn over rate for the PD? 70% of those on the Department now will not stay 5 years! First and foremost, the City needs to stop lopping all the pensions under one umbrella. The general employees pension is in the worst shape, stop framing the debate like the PD pension is about to go bust. The City should set up all new employees in the pension with either 1.5 or 2 percent a year, capped at 50 percent. Then give the employees the option to do the 401 K. Social Security is a big lie. Do you know if you qualify for a public pension that your social security benefits are reduced when you try to collect them? The city has revealed their recommendations less than 4 months before the budget. Watch, they will try to ram this through with little or no debate and employees will not be aware of the full ramifications or will have to make career decisions with only a few weeks notice, once it is signed into law around the 3rd week in June. I did not even get into the minefield of having the City choose which companies can manage the 401Ks. Imagine those weekly fees when the company buys stocks on Tue only to sell them on Friday and collect fees on both days. Be afraid, be very afraid. Pitful.

  2. JPS says:

    Steph, a good idea, a metro area police department would be one way to share the costs of policing a major city however, there is probably zero political will to give up the power of controlling the various police departments by any of the cities that would need to be involved. (and their budgets)

    My suggestion is an immediate moratorium on hiring employees in the City. If the Mayor insists we cannot afford to honor our pension obligations then why are we adding new members to the pension now? The City of Atlanta has been short on police and fire employees for two decades or more. These salary savings in the tens of millions of dollars occurred when unfilled budgeted slots were not filled over the years and were squandered by every administration since Eldrin Bell was the Chief of Police.

    What we really need is to maintain the current level of employees in the Police and Fire department and let the PD numbers move down to around 1700 through attrition. We do not need three hundred more police officers in this City creating more pension and salary obligations. (that equates to thirty million dollars to recruit and train and a carrying cost of approximately twenty five million a year with salary and benefits). What we do need is a better managed police department with officers who want to be here.

    Violent crime numbers are historically low yet politicians continue to call for more police. We have patrolled this city on less than fifteen hundred police officers in our recent history. Better training, better salaries and better leadership with a number of police we CAN afford is called for. We also need a better system of discipline so there is an easier way of firing police officers who have shown that they are just here for a paycheck and unfit to serve. Give me fifteen hundred police officers who want to patrol these streets, who are well trained, well equipped, well disciplined, respected by their employer and proud to be one of Atlanta’s Finest, and this City would be safer and we would have a waiting list of applicants who want to work here.

    Change the pension for employees not yet hired and do not try to impair the current contract which is clearly an unconstitutional move. (clear to almost everyone). Leave the current employees contract alone and avoid the costly litigation that the City will almost certainly lose.

  3. cityworker says:

    I don’t think that a regional police department, or fire department will work. First is politics, there is no way that the county will want to give control to the city, and same can be said about the city. Also imagine the pay, pension benefit problems you would have. I don’t hear Fulton county FD or PD complaining about workman’s comp, pay benefits etc.
    I think what needs to be done is a clear and concise analysis of the pensions as they stand. I believe that the Police Dept’s pension is in pretty good shape. Our pension, and general employees is not as well funded, thus would need more work. Out of all the BS put out by the Mayors office I dont see any firm numbers, with current funding expenses etc. I think that there are a lot of other things that can be addressed before cutting pensions.
    First the people that provide health benefits. I know for a fact that Cobb, and Fulton are getting better benefits, and paying less. What does it cost the city? Pension managers, what are the fees we are paying, commissions etc? Is now not the best time to go looking for a better fund manager? The workman’s comp company. I remember that there was a huge stink a while ago about them denying people for everything, then the city getting sued and loosing…how much does that cost?
    This is just scratching the surface, I’m sure if you go through the city and speak to the people that work in the departments you could find a tremendous amount of waste. Lets look at other options before taking away the only thing that actually made sense in this city. Im sure the employees will be willing to talk and negotiate what they pay into there pension. I just find it funny that the mayor is talking about saving money, when him his buddy, and the police chief are riding around in brand new denalis at about 80k a piece…..do as I say not as I do huh?

  4. Burroughston Broch says:

    Stephanie, you have a viable idea. Fulton County will shrink when Milton County is re-established, leaving only the City and South Fulton. Combine the City and Fulton into a consolidated government as has been done numerous times in Georgia. This would close the Atlanta Public Schools and eliminate a continuing problem.
    Of course, every City employee who gripes about his pension will fight this opportunity to do better, just like the politicians.

  5. J.W. says:

    JPS, I’m with you. Why do we need to hire more police officers? Atlanta has more than enough to work with. Has anyone ever done an audit on the number of Atlanta Officers with less than 10 years on holding down desk jobs? The numbers are carefully hidden and would stagger most of us. It’s a matter of allocating the resources. Wouldn’t it make more sense to hire citizens so desk-police can do the job they were hired and paid to do? Just another example of poor leadership and mis-management.