Bluffs Votes Plan for Firemen's Pension
By Leo Coughlin
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - The City Commission by a 3-2 vote Monday night wisely opted to take a moderate and fair course in trying to solve the fire fighters pension problem.
That vote thus gives the chance of the city dealing equitably with the former employees involved and avoids a possible lawsuit.
Two members - Jack Nazario and Taylour Shimkus - were adamant in their opposition. They wanted to return to the fire fighters only the contributions they had made to the pension plan.
Nazario and Shimkus were apparently operating on the advice of John Hubbard, a lawyer, who said the city was bound to pay only what had been contributed by the individuals.
But Tom Trask, a member of Hubbard's law firm and who is the regular attorney for the Bluffs, said that the sticking point was that the fire fighters would have to accept that sort of arrangement.
Arbutine was strongly in favor of turning the matter over to the city's pension board and have an end to the pension plan negotiated that would be fair to all parties.
The issue arises because the Belleair Bluffs fire department was subsumed into Largo Fire & Rescue which now serves Belleair Bluffs and what the Bluffs used to serve, including Belleair.
When Belleair opted to join Largo for economic reasons that destroyed the financial viability of the Bluffs fire department and Belleair Bluffs followed Belleair's path into Largo service.
Bluffs fire fighters became part of the Largo department but left the matter of costly pensions and Largo did not want to take over that which applied to the former Bluffs employees without Belleair Bluffs paying a high price.
The pensions of those former employees is Belleair Bluffs' responsibility and the problem is how to end the plan.
Arbutine, backed by Joe Barkley and Susie Sofer, want the city's pension board to talk with the fire fighters and make a recommendation. They favor a lump sum payout.
While this would be somewhat costly to the city, it would be less than what it would cost for Belleair Bluffs to sustain the pension plan over future years.
Investment return on funds is very low in the disastrous economic climate and the city would have to make up any differences.
So the matter remains unresolved but observers noted some progress in what they said was the right direction with Sofer's motion to bring the pension board into the picture.
In other action, the commission at a public hearing approved a millage rate of 4.35 for upcoming fiscal year 2011 that begins October 1.
That rate is a decrease of 9.57 percent from the rolled back rate (the rate that would raise the same amount of ad valorem revenue as was raised in 2011). It supports a budget of $1,785,186.
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