Cuts to retirement fund to mean big bucks for cities

BOISE -- A major change to one of the firefighter retirement funds is in the works and it could have a big impact on local cities and fire districts throughout the state.

It all revolves around the Firefighters Retirement Fund, or FRF.

This fund is a separate system from PERSI, but they administer it. FRF was closed back in 1980, but 22 employers across the state still contribute 17.4 percent of current firefighter payrolls to the fund each year.

As of this summer, it's 110 percent funded, so PERSI is considering dropping those employer contributions down to just five percent.

The fund provides benefits for about 550 retirees and beneficiaries. Two firefighters with FRF are still on the job.

For several years, PERSI has been meeting with retirees and contributing employers to discuss a possible reduction.

Next Tuesday, PERSI's board will consider the issue.

But, the city of Boise already has big plans for their possible savings.

"The city is very confident this money will be available, it is up to PERSI and we respect that process and will be looking forward to that vote," said Boise spokesman Adam Parks.

If the change goes through, the city of Boise would receive an extra $2.84 million each year.

But Nampa Mayor Bob Henry isn't as convinced it's a done deal.

"We have no assurance that we are going to get it, if we do we do and we will wait until PERSI makes that decision," said Henry.

If the reduction happens, the city of Nampa would see an extra $827,000 each year. But Henry doesn't want to commit the funds to ongoing projects.

"My recommendation would be one time expenses, capital needs, roofs, roads, vehicle, those type of things," said Henry.

But, Boise is ready to spend their savings on new fire training facilities and updates throughout the department, specifically, a proposed bond.

The $17 million, 10-year fire bond would be less than $2 million a year in payments.

So the savings from the retirement fund would more than cover the bond with no increase to taxpayers.

But PERSI has yet to sign off on the change.

They want to make sure their fund will cover the 550 retirees and beneficiaries it was designed for.

"Our number one obligation is to the fund, it's not to the 22 employers, it's to the fund and its beneficiaries, so we take that very seriously," said PERSI Executive Director Don Drum.

In the meantime, cities and fire districts like Boise and Nampa are watching the process closely as five PERSI board members prepare to discuss an issue that's been looming for years.

"It would be presumptive of me to say this would be a slam dunk, I don't' see anything that should trip it up, but once again they are independent board members and it's up to them to make that decision," said Drum.

We did ask Boise if there was a back-up plan to pay for the fire bond if the retirement fund change doesn't pass.

The city tells us they do have money available from their general fund, so no matter what the fire bond will go forward with no tax increase.

The City Council still has to approve that bond before it goes before voters in November.

There's no word on exactly when they will make a decision or when the reduction would go into effect.


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