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New pension statute called ‘small first step’

By Staff | Sep 25, 2012

Mayor John Sullivan said a new state statute that limits the amount of overtime fire and police can use for pension computations is a step in the right direction.

He also stressed it was a very small one, for it doesn’t come close to resolving what he says is the key issue that threatens to break the back of Cape Coral in coming years.

“The mandate is something in the right direction, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Sullivan said during Monday’s city council workshop meeting at City Hall. “The next step is to negotiate with the unions to avert a financial crisis that’s coming down the road.”

City Attorney Dolores Menendez explained to council that the statute limits the amount of overtime compensation in pension computation to 300 hours per year fire and police personnel could still work as much overtime as they could muster – and doesn’t allow any unused leave time.

The statute, which went into effect July 1, 2011, requires implementation after the signing of the first collective bargaining agreement. Cape Coral ratified for fire and police on Feb. 6, which is when the statute retroactively began, Menendez said, adding that when the agreement was ratified, the statute wasn’t.

The statute, which the city must follow, was implemented to prohibit fire and police personnel close to retirement from loading up on leave and overtime to bump up their pension.

“I don’t know if I would call it abuse. It won’t let them add on as much as they can to make pensions higher,” Sullivan said. “There are also instances where someone is given a promotion at the last minute to boost up their pension. That has to stop.”

While the statute is considered a win for local governments, it doesn’t address Cape Coral’s current issue of how it will fund the pensions of retired and retiring fire and police workers, which some city leaders have said could bankrupt the city.

Sullivan said real progress will be made at the negotiating table with the fire and police unions, where, hopefully, the city will receive additional givebacks or they could come up with another way to fund the pensions.

“The pensions could break the back of the city. There are going to have to be structural changes to survive,” Sullivan said. “And this helps the unions as well. They don’t want the city to go belly-up. Then it will be decided by a court, not negotiations.”

A public hearing date is set for Oct. 22.

In other business, the city began its journey toward making the proposed luxury RV resort on Burnt Store Road a reality.

An ordinance was put forth to amend the land use classification on a parcel from Public Facilities to Mixed Use, and six other parcels from single family and Multi Family to Mixed Use.

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz told council that if the land-use designation died, then so would the resort, thus the land-use change is needed to make it happen.

A public hearing date is also scheduled for Oct. 22.