Council approves police and fire pension scheme

Following the recommendation of a mayor’s committee, Great Bend City Council approved the city’s long-awaited benefit-sharing plan for uniformed first responders on Monday night. A special sales tax approved by voters last November is funding the plan which came in response to complaints from emergency personnel about their retirement options.

However, approval was not unanimous: Council members Lindsey Krom-Craven from Ward 1, Kevyn Soupiset from Ward 2, Cory Urban from Ward 3, Davis Jimenez from Ward 3 and Brock McPherson from Ward 4 voted in favor. ; and Alan Moeder of Ward 1, Jolene Biggs of Ward 2 and Natalie Towns of Ward 4 voted against.

First, the city administrator, Kendal Francis, explained to the council the details of the plan agreed upon by the committee members:

• Quarterly, the funds received will be divided by the total base salaries to determine a percentage. Then each employee will receive this percentage of their base salary, divided equally by pay period.

• Only uniformed police and firefighters would be eligible. Civilian positions within the two departments will not be included. • The city will provide long term disability insurance through Hartford. Cancer and Critical Illness coverage will not be provided.

• Employees become fully vested after 10 years. The current system is five.

• If an employee becomes permanently disabled, whether work-related or not, the employee automatically becomes 100% vested.

• There are leadership positions for which the city could hire employees knowing that they are unlikely to stay long term. (like Police Chief Steve Haulmark and Deputy Fire Chief Brent Smith) knowing that they bring their experience and leadership here. As a recruitment tool, the positions of Chief of Police, Captain of Police, Fire Chief and Deputy Fire Chief will be fully vested on their date of hire.

• Employees become eligible for the Incentive Plan on the 1st day of the new quarter following their hiring.

• The contribution rate for uniformed police and firefighters will increase from the current 4.5% to 7.15%. This reflects the rate they would have contributed had the city joined KP&F.

• The employer contribution rate will increase from 9.5% to 8.5%, to match the contribution rate for all other employees.

• All profit-sharing funds of an employee who terminates employment prior to vesting will be returned to the plan’s forfeiture fund. These funds wi!! then be redistributed in equal shares to employees once a year.

• Start the new 401(k) incentive plan on October 1.

• Begin long-term disability coverage as of January 1, 2023.

• Begin changes to the existing 401(k) Defined Contribution Plan effective February 24, 2023 payroll.

“I have some objections,” Towns said.

First, she saw the employee contribution requirement as potentially a hardship for staff members, especially as the cost of living continues to rise.

Second, “we already treat them differently,” she said. She appreciates their service and realizes the jobs are dangerous, but said “we may be going too far”.

The cities felt that their should be a cap on the city contribution percentage and should be kept closer to that of other city staff.

“The citizens of Great Bend voted for this and we must honor that,” Moeder said. But, “I think we need to back off a bit.”

Although only 2,000 residents voted in favour, everyone had a chance, he said.

“It’s not final,” Mayor Cody Schmidt said. The board can always come back and reconsider the matter.

Francis said committee members, which included police and firefighters, approved the plan.

Schmidt appointed the committee on March 7 to develop specific details of the plan.

The committee included: Schmidt; board members Alan Moeder, Cory Urban and Kevyn Soupiset; City Administrator Kendal Francis; City Clerk Shawna Schafer; director of human resources Randy Keasling; Chief of Police Steve Haulmark; GBPD Sgt. Ryan DeYoung; Christian Rivas, officer of the GBPD; Fire Chief Luke McCormick; firefighter Chad Burroughs; and GBPD Cpt. Matt Peterson.

Background

In March, the council rejected two options to bolster pensions for uniformed first responders that council members feared would be unsustainable using sales tax alone and could result in property tax hikes. Instead, they opted to use sales tax money to create an internal profit-sharing plan for firefighters and police officers.

The tax is 0.20% and there is no sunset. Estimated income is $755,504 per year.

On the table, three options. These included: switching to the Kansas Police and Fire Department through the Kansas Public Employment Retirement System; augment Mission Square’s current silver purchase plan; or create the new Mission Square Incentive Plan.

Until the change, the city offered a 401K retirement plan for all employees, including police officers and firefighters, through Mission Square since the city is not part of KPERS.

The KP&F has been passionately endorsed by emergency personnel. They said it would make departments more competitive and help eliminate the rapid turnover that plagues both. It also offers a guaranteed pension for retirees, which is not addressed by Mission Square.


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