Ballwin Board reconsiders increased pension for city employees
By: Jim Erickson
A discussion of issues affecting the compensation package for city of Ballwin employees has resulted, for at least the time being, in changing an earlier decision to boost the city’s pension contribution for all personnel.
As part of its 2013 budget review and approval, Ballwin’s Board of Aldermen had approved including a pool of funds to boost employee salaries and to contribute the higher amount needed to provide higher pension benefits. The increase in pension contributions came in the aftermath of a police department move from its defined contribution pension program to LAGERS, a statewide defined benefit plan for local government employees. Both measures would go into effect later this year and, while funds have been allocated for both, the Board has not yet signed off on the specifics.
At its Jan. 12 Board retreat, the Board ended a lengthy discussion on the merits of a better pension package and a greater pay increase by voting 6-2 to scuttle plans to improve the pension. That step, argued Alderman Richard Boerner (Ward 4) who introduced the motion, would enable the city to boost the amount available for salary increases, bringing Ballwin employee pay closer to the average of other nearby communities.
Aldermen Frank Fleming (Ward 3) and Kathy Kerlagon (Ward 4) opposed the measure. Fleming had argued before the vote that he had heard nothing during the discussion to persuade him that improved pension benefits should be abandoned.
After the motion passed, Fleming expressed displeasure that the matter had been brought up for a vote.
“We’ve never done that (held a formal vote) at earlier workshops,” he said.
As part of the overall discussion, Jeff Kempker, a representative for Missouri LAGERS, detailed how Ballwin will be required to fund the higher pension benefit. The extra money needed for the increase would be $1.5 million, an amount that could be paid over a number of years rather than all at once, he said.
LAGERS offers a variety of pension benefit options and it’s up to each employer to select the one to be provided to employees. One of the program’s alternatives is for employees to contribute to the plan, a step more cities are taking to lower their financial responsibility while increasing benefit levels, Kempker said.
Ballwin employees do not now contribute to the city’s pension plan.
Alderman Shamed Dogan (Ward 2) said he believes most employees would prefer a salary increase to higher pension benefits. In reality, he added, higher salaries will mean a pension hike because those benefits are based on a worker’s salary and years of service.
In earlier discussions, there was consensus that increases would not apply to those at higher salary ranges in light of a salary survey that concluded wage differences are more pronounced at the lower end of the city’s pay scales.
At this point, any pay increases will not be across the board but will come from a pool of funds now set at 3 percent of payroll. Supervisors will determine on the basis of merit how much each employee receives.
Fleming noted that any move to across the board increases will put aldermen in the position of evaluating employees, declaring in effect that all do an equally good job worthy of an equal raise in pay.
Supervisors are the ones who should evaluate their people and give salary increases accordingly, he said.
Boerner maintained the need for higher immediate pay increases is urgent and that the current pension plan is “fair and reasonable.” He cited police department salaries as being especially out of line with those paid in other communities.
Asked to comment on the police salary issue, Chief Steve Schicker acknowledged his department is having difficulty recruiting and retaining personnel due to the higher pay offered elsewhere for the same work.
Discussion and the action taken at the Board retreat confirm that the overall compensation issue is not resolved and the issue will be debated again before final decisions are made.