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KC lets officers join state retirement plan

Kenneth City puts its police into the Florida Retirement System, though it would cost about $38,000 more this year.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

KENNETH CITY -- It was against her better judgment, but Council member Fran Luke cast the deciding vote to let police officers join the state retirement system.

"I really was not in favor of the (Florida Retirement System), but nobody spoke against it who lived in Kenneth City. They all spoke for it," Luke said. "That's what made me vote for it."

Police officers, their families and town residents showed up at the Wednesday meeting to urge Council members to grant the cops' request even though it would cost more tax money -- about $38,000 this year, according to Kenneth City estimates. The vote to allow the switch was 3-2.

It's unclear what the future costs might be; the percentage of each officer's salary that the town contributes to the system is set each year by the Legislature. The contribution is about 18 percent now, but town officials said it has been as high as 30 to 33 percent.

The town was paying 10 percent of each town employee's salary into its retirement plan.

Town attorney Paul Marino urged Council members not to go with the state retirement system. "We don't know what the future rates may be," Marino said. The Legislature, he said, can go as high as it wants.

Marino also objected that the state system keeps the town's contributions even when an officer who hasn't yet qualified for any pension leaves the town's employ.

"It's a win-win for the state of Florida and a lose-lose for the town of Kenneth City," Marino said.

Officers liked the higher retirement pay than what is provided by the town's plan. The state system also includes a yearly cost-of-living increase.

Marino and Kenneth City police Chief Jim Ernst argued that the town's plan would provide an adequate retirement. They pointed to figures that indicated an officer who stayed with the town for 20 years would have $209,595.

But police Sgt. Jim Rieser said he didn't see how that could be.

Rieser has worked for the town since 1989 and has been vested in the pension plan since 1992. After 10 years, his statement showed he has a balance of $28,905.

Plus, the retirement fund lost $4,500 this year.

"How am I going to make that up?" Rieser asked.

Rieser's balance is about half what the town figures he should have.

"Tell me how, in 10 years from now, this is going to jump up and double and triple and quadruple to that magic number he's talking about?" Rieser asked as he held up the statement.

"This is not theory and telling you what "may be,' " he said. "This is what it is."

That was enough to convince most members of the audience.

"They deserve a decent retirement," said Harlene "Honey Bee" Bowie, a former Council member.

Maureen Boberg said, "This is about what's right."

If the town cannot afford to give officers an adequate retirement, Boberg said, "let's give them to the sheriff's department because they can do them right."

Former Mayor Harold Paxton sounded a note of caution. There ought to be a compromise, he said, such as having the town contribute more to its pension plan. That way, the Legislature would not have control over the percentage and officials could budget pension costs more easily.

But Council members listened to the majority.

Teresa Zemaitis made the motion to change to the state system: "This is what the officers want. This is what the residents want. I would like to support that."

Ron Sneed seconded her motion. Then they and Luke voted in favor. Mayor Bill Smith and Council member Al Carrier voted against the move.

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