The Columbus Dispatch

Police, firefighte­rs want pension fund boosts

- Laura A. Bischoff

The Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund is asking lawmakers to boost how much local government­s pay into cops and firefighters’ retirement system – a move that could cost those communitie­s hundreds of millions of dollars.

The fund is backing proposed legislatio­n that would increase local government­s’ rates to 26.5% of payroll for cops and firefighters, up from the current rates of 19.5% and 24%, respective­ly. The hike would be passed onto taxpayers.

An estimate for how much that would cost Ohio’s 900 local police and fire department­s was not immediatel­y available. The department­s contribute­d $518.2 million on $2.74 billion in payroll in 2020, according to the fund’s most recent comprehens­ive financial report.

“I think that the employers, mayors, etc, understand the essential nature of recruiting and retaining public safety officers – not just through COVID but we’ve had a lot of social unrest,” fund director Mary Beth Foley said. “So we need them and they need a defined benefit plan that they can rely upon. They need disability benefits to be


The employer contributi­on was last increased in 1986.

“We are going to the Legislatur­e with a problem clearly on the horizon with a fair solution that will allow us to avoid difficult decisions driven by ignoring the issue until it's too late,” said Michael Taylor, president of the Ohio Associatio­n of Profession­al Fire Fighters.

He added, “Employers should pay their fair share and the time to act is now while local government­s are in a strong financial position.”

Cities' finances are already in a tight spot. Many municipali­ties risk losing millions of dollars in income tax revenues as more workers continue to work from home, Ohio Municipal League executive director Kent Scarrett said.

“The financial stability of municipali­ties is far from rosy,” he said.

Foley said the goal is to move the bill, which has yet to be introduced, through the House and Senate by December 2022.

Over the past eight years, employee contributi­on rates increased by 2.25% to 12.25% and retirees have been forced to pay more for health benefits.

Foley also noted that she expects an actuarial study due next year will show the fund should further lower its annual assumed rate of return. Currently, the system expects to average an 8% return on its $18 billion in assets. The 8% rate is the highest among Ohio's retirement funds.

Ohio's five public pension systems serve 675,000 government employees, 1.1 million inactive members and 485,000 beneficiaries. Collective­ly, the five systems have more than $250 billion in investment assets.

The systems are funded by employer and employee contributi­ons and investment returns. Public employees in Ohio do not participat­e in Social Security. Benefits and retirement rules are largely set by state law.

Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch and 20 other news organizati­ons.

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